One Year to Save the Union

The Institute of Welsh Affairs doesn't seem to have given this any publicity, but has recently put up a series of videos of a debate held in London a couple of weeks ago.

It was chaired by Peter Riddell and featured contributions by David Melding, Leighton Andrews and Adam Price. Use the £20 you've saved to buy your own bottle of wine, then sit back and enjoy.


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The Scots reject Britain as a nation, too

When the 2011 census figures on national identity for Wales and England were released last year they showed that people in both countries overwhelmingly rejected the idea that Britain was a nation. The equivalent figures for Scotland are among those that have just been released today, and they show almost exactly the same thing.

To demonstrate this, I have updated the table I included in this post to include the figures for Scotland. Although the wording of the questions is slightly different, it is important to notice that these are specific questions about national identity rather than identity in a more general sense.

How would you describe your national identity?
Tick all that apply ...

In Wales:

Welsh only ... 57.5%
Welsh and British only ... 7.1%
Welsh and any other(s) ... 1.2%
Welsh in any form ... 65.9%
Not Welsh ... 34.1%

British only ... 16.9%
British and any other(s) ... 9.4%
British in any form ... 26.3%
Not British ... 73.7%

English only ... 11.2%
English and British only ... 1.5%
English and any other(s) ... 1.1%
English in any form ... 13.8%
Not English ... 86.2%

In England:

English only ... 60.4%
English and British only ... 9.1%
English and any other(s) ... 0.7%
English in any form ... 70.1%
Not English ... 29.9%

British only ... 19.2%
British and any other(s) ... 10.1%
British in any form ... 29.3%
Not British ... 70.7%

Welsh only ... 0.6%
Welsh and British only ... 0.1%
Welsh and any other(s) ... 0.1%
Welsh in any form ... 0.8%
Not Welsh ... 99.2%

What do you feel is your national identity?
Tick ALL that apply ...

In Scotland:

Scottish only ... 62.4%
Scottish and British only ... 18.3%
Scottish and any other(s) ... 1.9%
Scottish in any form ... 82.6%
Not Scottish ... 17.4%

British only ... 8.4%
British and any other(s) ... between 8.4% and 10.7% *
British in any form ... between 26.7% and 29.0% *
Not British ... between 71.0% and 73.3% *

English only ... 2.3%

* The dataset for Scotland has been released in a less detailed form, making it impossible to distinguish between those who describe their national identity as, for example, Welsh only and those who describe it as Welsh and British. However these groupings only account for 2.3% in total and therefore don't affect the overall picture by very much.

Census 2011, Table KS202EW
Scottish Census 2011, Release 2A, Table 6

In each country the figure who describe their national identity as British in any way, shape or form is less than 30%. There is hardly any difference between the three countries. The figure is lowest in Wales at 26.3% and highest in England at 29.3%. This is an emphatic rejection of the idea of Britain as a nation across the whole of this island.

Instead, a large majority of people in all three countries think of their national identity as being Welsh, English or Scottish only. Again the figures are remarkably similar: highest in Wales at 69.2% (57.5% Welsh only, 11.2% English only, 0.5% Scottish only) and lowest in England at 61.8% (60.4% English only, 0.6% Welsh only, 0.8% Scottish only).

In both cases Scotland sits neatly in the middle. However there is one significant difference: the percentage in Scotland who regard their national identity as Scottish and British is very much higher (18.3%) than the equivalent figure in either Wales (7.1% Welsh and British) or England (9.1% English and British). And, correspondingly, the figure for those who regard their national identity as British only is very much lower in Scotland (8.4%) than it is in either Wales (16.9%) or England (19.2%).

I don't fully understand the reason for this, and I'd value people's thoughts about why opinion in Scotland should be so different.


In closing, I think I should repeat the point I touched on before. These census questions are specifically about national identity, not about identity in a more general sense. Most people in Denmark would feel Scandinavian and be happy to identify themselves as Scandinavian ... but would never describe their nationality as Scandinavian. Most people in the Netherlands would feel European and be happy to identify themselves as European ... but would never describe their nationality as European.

In the same way, it is perfectly possible for people to feel British without considering their nationality to be British. There's nothing wrong with the idea of Britain; it is perfectly reasonable to describe the geographical, historical, cultural and social identity we have in common as British.

But it is wrong to describe Britain as a nation, and even more wrong to describe Britain as "one nation". The census evidence shows that the people who live on this island overwhelmingly reject the idea of Britain as a nation. Instead, the vast majority of us see our national identity as Welsh, English or Scottish only.

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Bun-sgoil Taobh na Páirce

With a hat-tip to An Sionnach Fionn, here is a story from STV about the official opening of Edinburgh's first Gaelic-medium school.

First dedicated Gaelic school in Edinburgh officially opened


Bun-sgoil Taobh na Páirce has 30 Gaelic speaking staff teaching 213 pupils – 53 of them who started school for the first time this year. It has been built on the site of the former Bonnington Primary School in Leith and replaces the Gaelic Medium Education Unit at Tollcross Primary School. Dr Alasdair Allan, minister for learning, science and Scotland’s languages, officially opened the school on Wednesday.

Headteacher Anne MacPhail, said: "I’m very proud to be leading the school into a historic new era for Gaelic in the city. The local Leith community have been very welcoming since we moved in and I’m really looking forward to building on the successes of our first few weeks."

The primary school, which is open to anyone who wants to send their children there, has been funded by the Scottish Government and the City of Edinburgh Council.

Dr Allan said: "It’s a privilege to be here today to officially open Bun-sgoil Taobh na Páirce, Edinburgh’s first dedicated Gaelic school. This school, and others like it, will help ensure that Gaelic continues to be a vibrant part of our culture, immersing pupils and staff in the language and allowing them to carry it with them throughout their lives. Our efforts to encourage a new generation of Gaelic speakers and teachers is already showing encouraging results – as we’ve seen by the 12 per cent rise in pupils entering P1 this year – and the launch of City of Edinburgh Council’s Gaelic Language Plan will mean that its work to promote the language will reach even more people."

STV News, 25 September 2013

It's very good news. And I have to say that I admire the bravery of those four young girls for not running away while a live haggis was half-squeezed to death during the celebrations. The scourge of the pipes can be a bit of an ordeal. But I understand that it was released back into the wild afterwards, and is expected to make a full recovery.

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Most of us want a Welsh Passport

I was reading through the recent IPPR report entitled England and Its Two Unions, and came across this snippet of information on epage 10:

     If you were allowed to choose the nationality that appears on
     your passport, which of these descriptions would you choose?


As we can see, most people in Wales would want a passport that describes their nationality as Welsh, and only a minority would want to be described as British nationals. This is all the more remarkable when we consider that fully 21% of the population of Wales was born in England, that 13.8% consider their nationality to be English, and that 8% would want an English passport.

In contrast, most people in England would still prefer to be described as British nationals; but even so, the percentage wanting an English passport is quite significant. Unfortunately, equivalent information is not available for Scotland. It would be well worth asking them the same question.


It is information like this which shows why Wales will not remain part of the United Kingdom for long. Public perception of what we consider our nationality to be, and therefore how we want to be seen by the rest of the world, is way ahead of the political process that will deliver independence ... just as the desire for more decisions about Wales to be made in Wales is way ahead of the political process that will deliver more devolution. We would do well to learn from what has happened in Catalunya, where the recent movement towards independence has been driven first and foremost by people from across all sections of Catalan society, leaving the political parties with no real choice but to respond.

I am a political animal who understands that politics is important, but it is not all-important. Who we are as a nation and how we are seen by the rest of the world matters much more to most people in Wales than politics or political parties, and to become an independent nation we need to work at this level rather than just at a political level.

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Campaigning for a WM school in Grangetown

The weather wasn't at its best, but there was a rally yesterday in Cardiff in support of the campaign for a new Welsh-medium school in Grangetown. The school had been promised by the Cardiff Council, and had already been approved by the Welsh Government together with 50% of the funding for it. However Cardiff then changed their minds and announced that they wanted to make it an English-medium school instead, but rapidly withdrew that plan and now want to conduct another consultation.

Here are the speeches from it by Sioned Mills, Leanne Wood, Judith Woodman, Ben Foday, Dyfed Wyn Huws, Eluned Morgan and Neil McEvoy, taken from the Ymgyrch TAG YouTube page. I hope I've got them in the right order.


Ymgyrch TAG also has pages on Facebook and Twitter.

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A new Welsh-medium school for Shotton

I try to keep an eye on proposals for new Welsh-medium schools, but here is one that almost slipped under the radar. This report is from

Welsh Medium school places will be available from September 2014 for Nursery and Reception aged pupils for the first time in Shotton and Deeside, in response to public demand

Welsh is taught as first language in Welsh-medium schools, children wishing to join a Welsh-medium school do not have to speak Welsh to attend if they are young enough to learn the language quickly. The numbers of children in Welsh-medium schools has increased steadily in recent years as demand grows.

Parents and guardians with children who will be 3 or 4 years old by 31 August 2014 can apply for a place in a school nursery or reception class for September 2014.

Flintshire County Council has been working in partnership with Menter Iaith and Mudiad Meithrin and this extra provision for Welsh-medium education will be available from September 2014 in the building currently used by Shotton Infant School on Plymouth Street. It will be called:

Ysgol Croes Atti @ Glannau Dyfrdwy
Croes Atti Primary School @ Deeside

Councillor Chris Bithell, Cabinet Member for Education, said: "This is a great opportunity for children in the Shotton and Deeside area to have the benefit of being fully bilingual in Welsh and English, by receiving a Welsh-medium education. Admissions to reception classes for next year open on 30 September, and close on 29 November. Parents applying for nursery places can apply from 6 January 2014. I would urge parents and guardians not to miss out on a place!"

To register your interest, find out more, and to get an admissions pack, please contact Flintshire County Council via the website at or contact the Lifelong Learning Department on 01352 704068 / 704019., 20 September 2013

Just to be clear, Ysgol Croes Atti is an existing WM school in Fflint. So it would appear that the new school is, in the beginning at least, going to be a satellite of that school sharing the same head and board of governors. That might well change as the new school fills up.

Here are some pictures of the building. It's old, but it will do.



In terms of capacity, Shotton Infants School currently has an admission number of 50, although its actual intake is much lower than this. This is one of the reasons why it makes sense for it to amalgamate with Taliesin Junior School, which is only a few hundred metres away and has a similar number of surplus places. This means that the new WM school would have an admission number of about 25. It would be the sixth Welsh-medium primary in Sir y Fflint.

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Paying for Universal Free School Meals

On the whole, the announcement that all children in England aged 7 and under will get a free school lunch is something to be welcomed. In fact I've just read an opinion piece by Jemima Lewis in the Telegraph, of all places, and pretty much agree with every word she wrote. It was quite disconcerting!


     Everyone benefits from free school meals

For those who are interested, the full report on the pilot studies in Durham and Newham is here.

I would, however, want to add one thing to what she said. Schemes which provide a universal benefit—rather than those in which eligibility for the benefit is determined according to the ability to pay—are some of the most useful tools available to government for redistributing wealth and alleviating the effects of poverty. It goes without saying that the benefit is paid for out of general taxation rather than being "free", but that is a good thing in so far as we have a progressive tax system in which the rich pay more tax than those on middle incomes, and those on middle incomes pay more tax than the poor.

This is why, for example, the idea put about by Tories in Wales that rich people shouldn't get free prescriptions, because they can afford to pay for them and would be prepared to pay a nominal sum for them to ease financial pressure on our NHS, is completely bogus. Of course rich people should pay more, but it is much better for them to do it through paying higher taxes rather than over the counter for each item.

The new universal FSM scheme in England is expected, according to this report, to cost some £600m a year, although I'm not sure whether this is the overall cost for all children, or just the additional cost for those who are not currently receiving FSMs. As some 20% currently claim FSMs, the overall cost might be in the order of £750m a year. But bringing the 80% who are not currently receiving FSMs into the scheme represents a very considerable extension of provision. In fact it would be a much greater extension than would be the case with free prescriptions, because the vast majority of prescriptions issued in England are already free.

And of course it would be even better if FSMs were extended to all primary school children rather than just the younger ones, and if they were extended to secondary school children as well.


So in principle this is a great idea and should be supported, but in practice there is one major problem with what has been proposed. It would be fine if this £600m were to be raised by increasing taxation, but there are no plans to increase it. This means that the scheme can only be funded by yet more cuts to other public services, on top of the savage cuts that have already been imposed and which have yet to fully bite in any case.

It means that this proposal is not really going to help the poor, because they are already getting FSMs. It is only going to help the better off, who will save some £400 a year for each child. The poor will in fact lose out because they rely disproportionately on the existing public services that will have to be cut to pay for it.

The ConDem government has done exactly the same thing with income tax. Yes, it is a good idea to take the lower paid out of income tax altogether by raising the threshold, but this should have been balanced by increasing the basic rate of income tax so that the overall tax take remained the same. As things stand, increasing the threshold from £6,475 in 2010/11 to £10,000 in 2014/15 will give every basic rate taxpayer an extra £705 a year (although an allowance needs to be made for inflation, making it maybe £400 or £500 in real terms). So, once again, the overall effect is to reduce the amount the UK government has available to spend on public services which the poor need more than those on middle incomes.

The LibDems will claim credit for both raising the income tax threshold to £10,000 and for UFSMs for those aged 7 and under. They will say they are helping to create a fairer, more equal society. They will say that by being in government, they have managed to save us from the rabid excesses of a government entirely made up of Tories. But this isn't really true. What they've "giving" with one hand is being clawed back by the other.

If universal benefits are to be extended, they need to be paid for by corresponding increases in general taxation. This is the only way that other public services can be maintained rather than cut.

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Valuing Purpose and Policies

I was quite impressed by Julia Gillard's article in the Guardian today. She was leader of the Australian Labor Party and Prime Minister of Australia until being replaced by former leader and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in June this year, in an attempt by the ALP to prevent the heavy loss the party was expected to suffer in the general election held last weekend. Although at first it looked likely that the switch might revive the ALP's fortunes, the boost in the polls was only short-lived, and Australia now has a right-wing government.

The "soundbite" version of what she had to say is here, but the full version contains—even if masked by some blatant party political point-scoring—a few insights which I think we would do well to learn from.


One of her points is to reflect on what to hold on to and what to reject after a defeat in the polls. As any party consigned to opposition licks its wounds and prepares itself for the next election in a few years' time, it is tempting to throw away your policies on the grounds that they have been "repudiated by the people" and instead try to come up with new, fresh policies in the hope of winning the next election.

But only a shallow and unprincipled party would do that. In order to decide what to hold on to and what to write off as a mistake, the guiding principle must be purpose. You must embrace what your party is for, not conduct elections on the basis that this can be shunted aside and that you care for nothing except retaining the seats you hold.


However another point that Julia Gillard makes struck me as being particularly pertinent to the way we do politics here: namely, how the work of developing coherent and relevant policies tends to be much less highly valued within party organizations than soundbite performances in the media.

I can't speak for other parties, but I know that Plaid Cymru has been very prone to this. All too often the task of developing policy was seen as being able to come up with a smart answer for a party spokesperson to give when questioned about one of the burning issues of the moment, rather than the more difficult task of working through how everything fitted together and then being able to present our policies on that issue in a way that would make sense to the public because they fitted into the wider context of what we stand for.

Being a party of purpose is not just about being a party of values and policy choices that demonstrate those values in action. It is also about being a party that has a culture which internally rewards actions and conduct that speak of purpose, not self-interest.

It is to Labor’s culture, its spirit, that the most damage has been done. To refresh Labor’s purpose ... requires the most and hardest work. It will take time and it starts with renewing the things of the spirit, Labor’s cultural norms ... [and] it is clear that some new cultural norms need to be thought about and deliberately set.

Ultimately organizations tell you what they are all about and what they value by what they reward. A great sales company rewards sales with performance bonuses. A great manufacturing business rewards those who generate fault-free products for it. A company with an overriding concern for safety constantly renews it protocols and issues rewards when no one gets hurt at work. This is all commonplace and common sense.


But how does it work for a progressive political party? Unfortunately, internally we have not rewarded Labor purpose. In order to renew purpose in opposition new cultural norms are needed, norms that reward the contributions that are truly the most valuable.

How does Labor refresh purpose and demonstrate that is exactly what it is doing? How does Labor set a cultural norm that ensures those who put in most for the collective effort are recognized for the work done? Or put another way, how does Labor make visible and valued what is currently hidden and undervalued?

In a world where the views of your colleagues about your merits matter so much to your chance of promotion, it is not at all surprising a great deal of effort goes into media work no one but political insiders ever see. At the same time, countless hours of work can go on behind closed doors on policy development. These efforts are generally never seen by the public and can even be close to invisible to colleagues.

Real efforts need to be made to change this method of functioning, to show purpose to the public and to ensure the best contributors to the collective work of the opposition are clearly identified to their colleagues.

Perhaps policy contests could be held in the open rather than behind closed doors. Rather than having the shadow ministry debate difficult policy questions, parliamentary party policy seminars should discuss them, open to the media and live on 24-hour television. Policy contests could then be taken out of the back rooms into the light. To the extent policy contests have leaked out from back rooms, they are inevitably reported through the prism of division. By being open from the start, the debate can be put in the prism of purpose. A norm would be set that ideas matter and those with the best ideas are the most valued.

Currently, working hard in your office on a new policy, being a key contributor to shadow ministry discussions, coming up with an innovative way of attracting new people to join the ALP – none of these valuable contributions is as visible to your Labor colleagues as performances on Sky television.

Guardian Australia, 14 September 2013

Plaid Cymru would be all the better if we looked to set similar norms for the way that we operate as a political party.

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A Complete Set

Since forming a UK Government with the Tories, the LibDems seem to have thrown away nearly every other principle they once had, so today's decision to make a U-turn and support nuclear energy more or less completes the set.

But I'll say this for them: at least they debated it at conference and made a democratic decision to change their policy. Nobody in a senior position within the LibDem party would dare claim, or think they could get away with claiming, that their policy on nuclear power was something different from what had been decided at conference.

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Full of kids

Last week I wrote about Ysgol Treganna's new building, and showed some pictures of it while the fitting-out work was being completed.

But it looks very much better when full of kids:


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Increasing surplus school places in the Vale

Yesterday, the Vale of Glamorgan Council issued a press release about a proposed new solution to meeting the ever-increasing demand for Welsh-medium education in Barry.

     Bright future for Gwaun y Nant and Oakfield schools

Welsh-medium Gwaun y Nant and English-medium Oakfield currently share the same building, shown in the image below. The council had floated the idea of closing Oakfield and two small schools in the rural Vale back in February this year, as I reported here. However there was a storm of outcry from the two rural schools, and the council quickly announced that they would not go ahead. As I explained in that post, it would be wrong to close the schools at Llanfair and Llancarfan, but it would be entirely justified to close Oakfield and allow Ysgol Gwaun y Nant to use the whole building.


It is worth repeating what I wrote at the time. Oakfield is in an urban location in Barry with no less than five other schools within easy walking distance of it: Cadoxton, Colcot, Gladstone, Holton and Jenner Park. Based on a capacity of seven times the Admission Number, all these schools have surplus places. These are the figures for statutory age children (i.e. excluding nursery provision) for 2012:

Cadoxton ... 413 capacity ... 331 on roll ... 82 surplus places (20%)
Colcot ... 406 capacity ... 237 on roll ... 169 surplus places (42%)
Gladstone ... 350 capacity ... 329 on roll ... 21 surplus places (6%)
Holton ... 525 capacity ... 344 on roll ... 181 surplus places (34%)
Jenner Park ... 273 capacity ... 199 on roll ... 74 surplus places (27%)

Total ... 1,967 capacity ... 1,440 on roll ... 527 surplus places (26%)

Oakfield ... 210 capacity ... 89 on roll ... 121 surplus places (58%)

Source for capacities | Source for numbers on roll

This level of surplus places is clearly unsustainable and at least one of these schools needs to close, even allowing for future population growth. In such a situation the only question is which.

Oakfield is an obvious choice for three reasons. First, it is not a good school. It's inspection report from Estyn is terrible, classed as "unsatisfactory" on every key question. This is as bad as it can be. So if we put any weight behind the idea that we should not close schools that perform well, it stands to reason that those which perform badly should be first in line to be closed ... providing that there are other, better schools in the same area with enough surplus places. The two closest alternatives, Colcot and Jenner Park, are only a few hundred metres away. So no family will be inconvenienced by the closure.

Second, Oakfield has by far the greatest percentage of surplus places and is now more than half empty. The unpopularity of the school must be linked to its poor performance, and parents are obviously voting with their feet. It is therefore pointless to keep the school open for much longer.

The third reason for choosing to close Oakfield is that it shares the same building with Ysgol Gwaun y Nant. This Welsh-medium school is rated Grade 1 by Estyn on every key question, and is understandably growing both on the strength of its good reputation and because of the general increase in demand for Welsh-medium education. It therefore makes perfect sense for Ysgol Gwaun y Nant to gradually expand into the space currently taken up by Oakfield Primary. Furthermore, there is no reason why this cannot be phased over a few years so as to minimize disruption to children already at Oakfield.


The council's new proposal is welcome to the extent that it will allow Gwaun y Nant to expand to fill the whole building. That's a complete no-brainer. But it is quite amazing that the council are considering spending more than £3.6m on a new building for Oakfield. There are already over 600 surplus places in English-medium schools in that part of Barry, and building a new one form entry school will increase that number by a further 210 to result in some 850 surplus places. This is because any increase in uptake for Welsh-medium education by enlarging Gwaun y Nant will be matched by a corresponding decrease in the demand for English-medium education.

It is the economics of the madhouse. These huge numbers of surplus spaces cost money, yet the council is proposing capital expenditure of over £3.6m in an exercise that will further increase the amount of revenue expenditure required by having to maintain even more surplus places than they already have. In times of economic hardship this is a grossly irresponsible use of money that could be spent on other things.

I have no objection to spending money on new school buildings, providing such building work is part of a programme to replace older, less suitable and more expensive to maintain school buildings elsewhere. So any proposal that the Vale of Glamorgan Council puts forward for consultation needs to include an appraisal of their existing stock of school buildings with a view to reducing the number of surplus school places in this part of Barry. That will mean closing at least one of the English-medium schools.

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Amazon caves in

I've just heard that Amazon have at last agreed to allow books in Welsh to be sold on the Kindle platform, in response to the recent petition organized by Y Lolfa and signed by over five thousand of us.

The Welsh language section of the Kindle Store is here. I suppose the next step is to persuade Amazon to provide a Welsh language version of their website.

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Paper Dragons

Here are some rather beautiful origami dragons:





Many more weird and wonderful creations can be seen here.

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And two more new Welsh-medium schools

This is the fourth and I think the last in a series of posts about new Welsh-medium schools that are opening at the start of this new school year. However this post is not about new buildings, they'll come later, instead it is about organizational changes which have resulted in the creation of two new schools in Sir Gâr. These changes promise to transform secondary education in the north and east of the county, and radically increase the amount of education that is delivered through the medium of Welsh.

Ysgol Maes y Gwendraeth, Sir Gâr

I suppose the name gives it away, but Ysgol Maes y Gwendraeth is a new school formed by the amalgamation of Ysgol Maes yr Yrfa in Cefneithin and Ysgol y Gwendraeth in Drefach. The other suggestions put forward for the new name included Ysgol Gyfun Hogwarts and Ysgol Maes y Sainsbury's, the latter because some of the funding will come from a Section 106 agreement as part of gaining planning permission for their new store in Cross Hands. Sainsbury's will no doubt strenuously deny that their decision not to install bilingual checkouts in their stores in Wales, see here and here, was taken in response to this unwarranted denial of a perfectly reasonable marketing opportunity snub.

The amalgamation was inevitable. Ysgol y Gwendraeth, shown below, was a predominantly English-medium secondary school in an area in which all the surrounding primary schools are Welsh-medium. Because of that, fewer and fewer parents were choosing to send their children there, and its performance was terrible too. The figures are here. Last year its intake was only 44 pupils, and it had only 312 pupils in total. Only 27.4% achieved the level 2 threshold of 5 A*-C GCSEs including English/Welsh and maths compared with a national average of 51.1%.


In contrast, the predominantly Welsh-medium Ysgol Maes yr Yrfa had an intake of 156 last year, a total roll of 793 pupils, and 66.7% achieved the same level 2 threshold. Figures here.


The only real question was what language category the new school would be. A full definition of the language categories is here. There are in fact no WM secondary schools, teaching everything in Welsh, in west Wales. The norm is for them to be category 2A schools, in which at least 80% of subjects are taught to all pupils in Welsh. The next category is 2B, in which all subjects are available in English but more than 80% are also available in Welsh. It is quite possible for the majority of pupils in a category 2B secondary school to be taught entirely in English, with no teaching in Welsh at all apart from Welsh as a subject.

Even though parents were already voting with their children's feet, there were howls of protest at the prospect of no longer being able to get an entirely English-medium secondary education in the Gwendraeth valley. Perhaps the most paranoid claim was from the local Conservative party secretary, Keith Evans, who said that if the new school was to be category 2A, the council would be "driving out an English-speaking minority" from the area. And it's worth reading through a long-running online debate, which is still available here, in which the usual suspects excelled themselves.

But in the end there was only one sensible decision that could be made, for reasons that are set out in full here. The new school would be category 2A.


The way things will work is set out in this document. The new intake of year 7 pupils will all be based at the Cefneithin (Maes yr Yrfa) campus, and be taught in Welsh. But those already at the Drefach (Gwendraeth) campus will continue to receive their education there, so it will be several years before the site closes. The Cefneithin campus will be expanded to accommodate the additional intake.

It isn't yet clear to me—although I'm sure the figures are now available—how many children transferring from the surrounding primary schools will enroll at Maes y Gwendraeth. There is the option for any who particularly want more of their education to be in English to transfer either to Ysgol Dyffryn Aman or to the new Ysgol Bro Dinefwr (more on that below) but my guess is that not many will make that choice. The important thing to bear in mind is that every primary school in the area is Welsh-medium, and that it is therefore natural for them to continue to receive a WM education at secondary level.

I don't think any plans have been finalized regarding how much the new Ysgol Maes y Gwendraeth will need to be extended, either. However one factor that will affect the decision is that the nearest predominantly Welsh-medium secondary to the west, Ysgol Bro Myrddin, is already full and has had to turn away 26 pupils this year. That school is on a constrained site in the centre of Carmarthen, with no real room for expansion. It is therefore very likely that Maes y Gwendraeth will have to be be made larger than it otherwise would be to relieve pressure on Ysgol Bro Myrddin by adjusting the catchment areas.

All in all, this marks a very large increase in Welsh-medium secondary school capacity in the Gwendraeth valley.

Ysgol Bro Dinefwr, Sir Gâr

This is another new secondary school in the county, formed by amalgamating Ysgol Pantycelyn in Llanymddyfri and Ysgol Tre-Gib in Ffairfach, next to Llandeilo. The intention is to house the new school in a new building on the other side of Ffairfach from September 2015, but in the meantime the school will continue to operate from the existing buildings on both sites. Here are some images of what it will look like:



Both Pantycelyn and Tre-Gib were category 2C schools, but the new school will be category 2B. It itself, the difference is not as significant as it might appear to be. As I mentioned before, in a category 2B school all subjects are available in English but more than 80% are also available in Welsh. In a category 2C school all subjects are available in English but between 50% and 79% are also available in Welsh. It is a measure of the availability of subjects in Welsh, but not a measure of how many pupils take up either the Welsh or English teaching options that are available. To illustrate this, a category 2B school teaching 80% of subjects in Welsh to 20% of its students could perhaps be described as "16% Welsh", but a category 2C school teaching 75% of subjects in Welsh to 80% of its students would be "60% Welsh". So things depend much more on the policy of the individual school than on how it is classified by the Welsh Government.

Ysgol Bro Dinefwr's policy is set out in this document. Here are some extracts from it:

Ysgol Bro Dinefwr will be a Category 2B school from September 2013. The new school is part of Carmarthenshire County Council’s proposal to transform secondary education in the Dinefwr area, which was agreed after consultation with the community and parents in 2010-11. Pupils attending a Category 2B school who come from a Category A Primary School [i.e. a Welsh-medium primary, using the WG definition] are expected to follow 80% of their Curriculum through the medium of Welsh or bilingually. This is to ensure continuity and consistency from their Key Stage 2 provision and is following County and Welsh Government policy towards a bilingual Wales.

[This policy will apply to] all pupils who are starting as Year 7 pupils at Ysgol Bro Dinefwr from September 2013.

They will be expected to follow all subjects through the medium of Welsh or Bilingually except for Science and English. Maths will be available in both Welsh and English.

Pupils who are placed in a bilingual class will be taught all subjects through the medium of Welsh, but will also have some units of these subjects taught in English. This is to ensure that pupils have consistent language teaching and models to follow in order to retain standards in both languages.

Any pupil transferring from a Category A Primary school, or who has been taught in a Category A Primary school for 3 years or more, will not be able to opt for subjects taught entirely in English. This has been the case for the last ten years, at least, at Ysgol Tre-Gib.

This language policy is in place for Key Stage 3, and pupils will have a choice at Key Stage 4 about which language they would like to continue studying their subjects.

To put things into perspective, there are only three primary schools in the dozen or so primaries in the new combined catchment area which are not Welsh-medium: Llandeilo Primary is English-medium, Ysgol Rhys Pritchard in Llanymddyfri is Dual Stream, and Ysgol Llandybie is Transitional. This means that only about 50 children out of an intake of roughly 180 will not be taking 80% of their subjects in Welsh. Using the same rough and ready calculation, the new Year 7 intake could therefore be described as about 58% Welsh.

It begs the question of what to do with these three schools. Ysgol Llandybie already teaches the Foundation Phase entirely in Welsh, but KS2 is divided into Welsh- and English-medium streams. However they say in their prospectus that this is only for the present, and the implication seems to be that sooner or later it will become entirely WM. I would guess that within a few years Ysgol Rhys Pritchard will also start phasing out its English-medium stream, as is being done elsewhere. As for Llandeilo Primary, I think it will amalgamate with the Welsh-medium Ysgol Teilo Sant. This will be very easy to do, as the two schools are next door to each other in what used to be separate infants and junior schools. Ysgol Teilo Sant started by being the smaller school, housed in the smaller infants block; but with 235 pupils it has now grown bigger than Llandeilo Primary with only 180 pupils, and the year-on-year balance is shifting towards WM. When these things happen and the changes have worked their way through the year groups, all Ysgol Bro Dinefwr's intake will have had a WM primary education and it will therefore become another category 2A secondary school.

Concluding throughts

There are plenty of things that I could criticize the local council for, but what is now happening in the north and east of Sir Gâr promises to be quite remarkable. To me, the council always seemed to have a complacent attitude to Welsh, thinking it didn't need to do anything because some two-thirds of their primary schools were Welsh-medium ... although it has to be said that the quality of provision in some of the smaller, traditional WM schools could be quite patchy.

The long-standing problem in Sir Gâr—and in Ceredigion too, for that matter—has been that most children then switched to English-medium secondaries. This was not so much out of choice, but because it was what their local secondary schools had always offered in the past, and pupils had to travel much further in order to get to the three predominantly WM secondary schools in the county: Ysgol Maes Yr Yrfa, Ysgol Bro Myrddyn and Ysgol y Strade in Llanelli.

The balance is now changing. As well as Maes y Gwendraerth and Bro Dinefwr this year, Ysgol Dyffryn Aman in Rhydaman is also being significantly extended with a new administration and sixth form block, a new 24-pupil special education needs block, a totally refurbished and extended science block and covered links between all buildings being completed last year as the first phase of the works (details here).

But the building work has been accompanied by a similar change in language emphasis. Section 4.1.3 of this scrutiny report from November last year notes that the number of students studying 80% of lessons through the medium of Welsh rose from only 28 in 2008 to 126 in 2012. That's a very positive change. Looking at section 4.3 of the same report, it says that the percentage of students continuing with Welsh education (which I think must mean when making the switch between primary and secondary) went up from 26% to 64%. The numbers and percentages don't immediately equate (probably because of DS schools and the EM school at Tycroes) but Fy Ysgol Leol shows that there were 238 pupils in Year 7 in 2012. 126 out of 238 means that 53% of last year's intake were doing at least 80% of their lessons in Welsh, which makes it about 42% Welsh.

So although there are no new buildings, there is in fact an awful lot to celebrate in Sir Gâr at the start of this new school year. If things continue this way we can expect the decline in the number of Welsh speakers in Sir Gâr revealed by the last census to be reversed.

Update - 13:10, 10 Sept 2013

I've re-written the paragraph about primary schools in the Bro Dinefwr catchment area to include Ysgol Gynradd Llandybie, which I had thought was in the Dyffryn Aman catchment area. Many thanks to Anon 01:31 for pointing out my mistake.

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Three more new Welsh-medium schools

This is my third post on Welsh-medium schools which are opening for the first time or being expanded at the start of the new school year ... and there's at least one more installment to come.

St Ilan, Caerffili

Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni in Fleur de Lis is currently Caerffili's only Welsh-medium secondary, but the growth in Welsh-medium primary provision in the last few years has been so fast that there would be a shortfall of at least a thousand places if secondary provison was not increased. Therefore the buildings that used to be occupied by St Ilan School before it closed in 2007 are being upgraded and extended.

This is what the site used to look like, together with an image of an early design concept:


Over the last few years I have seen various reports saying that it would be a new middle school for 8-14 year olds, or for 11-14 year olds, but it now appears it will be a 3-16 campus for Cwm Rhymni rather than a school in its own right. The latest details are in a consultation document from October last year, and this image is taken from the front cover:


Here is how the opening was reported today in the local newspaper:

St Ilan in Caerphilly reopens as a Welsh language school

A comprehensive school, closed since 2007, has welcomed back pupils after it was reopened as a Welsh-language school. From this month, the former St Ilan School site, off Pontygwindy Road, in Caerphilly, will house Year 7 pupils from the Caerphilly basin area as a campus of Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni.

Refurbishments to the Phoenix block and the construction of a sports hall and accompanying changing rooms have been completed at Caerphilly. The new development in Caerphilly will eventually cater to the educational needs of children aged 3 to 16. The development will also include a new £10.5 million leisure centre for the school and public use.

The existing Fleur-de-Lis site of Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni will become the main campus for 16 to 19-year-olds. An extra 900 school places will eventually be created to cater for the growing demand of Welsh language education.

Cllr Rhianon Passmore, Cabinet Member for Education and Lifelong Learning, said: “By September 2021, we could expect to see the existing Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni in Fleur-de-Lis almost 1,000 places over capacity if we had not taken action.”

Phase 2 of the works will see the refurbishment of the Gwindy block with a nursery and hall extension. Work is set to begin next month. Phase 3 will have a new classroom [block] by September 2015.

Caerffili Observer, 6 September 2013

The pupils moving in this week are the new Year 11 intake transferring from Welsh-medium primaries in the Caerffili basin area. There will still be a Year 11 intake to the Fleur de Lis campus from schools in the northern part of the county.

To the top left of the aerial picture is Ysgol Gymraeg Caerffili, an overcrowed primary school in which more pupils are taught in the numerous portacabins in the playground (I can count eight temporary classrooms in total) than are taught in the building itself. The next phase will be to relocate that school to the new site.

It's another big step forward in the growth of Welsh-medium education, and definitely something to celebrate.

Ysgol Pencae, Penmaenmawr, Conwy

This is perhaps a more low-key event, but it is significant. Ysgol Pencae is a Dual Stream primary school but, starting this year, there will be no longer be an intake to the English-medium stream, so the school will become entirely Welsh-medium in six years' time.


A proposal the change the language category of the school was made some time ago. In essence, the school felt that the new requirements of the Foundation Phase, particularly that all children should learn Welsh to the best of their ability, could be far better met by teaching all children in Welsh. This was borne out by the evidence, too. The percentage of children acheiving the KS2 CSI in the Welsh stream was significantly better than those achieving it in the English stream ... 88% as opposed to 63% in 2009, 100% as opposed to 73% in 2010, and 92% as opposed to 70% in 2011.

In addition to this (and probably because of it) far fewer parents were choosing the English-medium stream. In 2011, 25 chose the WM stream, but only 5 chose the EM stream. I was told that next year the numbers would be 26 to 3.

Even so, there was some quite ferocious opposition to the proposal, here, out of all proportion to the very small numbers of parents who actually chose the EM stream. But Leighton Andrews made the right decision, details on this page, apart from the fact that he delayed the implementation by a year. That is why the change is being made now, rather than in September 2012.

Ysgol Gynradd Aberteifi, Ceredigion

The situation here is very similar to that of Ysgol Pencae. A primary school that was Dual Stream is now going to become an entirely Welsh-medium school, starting with the intake this September. The details of the decision are on this page, and it was reported here in the Tivyside Advertiser.


In practical terms nothing much will change. The parents of only two children chose the English-medium stream last year. But it is again interesting that organized opposition to the change was completely disproportionate to what parents themselves actually chose for their children.

Yet at another level, this is a much more significant change than at Ysgol Pencae; for there is a predominantly English-medium school (Ysgol Capelulo, English with significant use of Welsh) less than a kilometre away from Ysgol Pencae, but there is no English-medium alternative close to Ysgol Gynradd Aberteifi. Anyone who particularly wants an English-medium education would have to travel either 16km to Newcastle Emlyn, or 30km to New Quay. Of course it's true that people who want a Welsh-medium education in some other parts of Wales have to travel just as far to get it, but the clear trend is to completely do away with English-medium primary education in the Fro Gymraeg. It has been the case for some time in Gwynedd, and is largely the case in Môn, but is now expanding to the rest of the Fro.

I am someone who welcomes this process, but I think we need to be very clear about what is happening and why it is being done. We are effectively denying people a choice about whether their children are educated in English, and we need to be able to justify it. I wrote a post on the subject here. Please read the whole thing, but this was my conclusion:

I think it is self-evident that a child who grows up in Gwynedd, Ynys Môn, Ceredigion or Sir Gâr (and perhaps west Conwy and north Pembrokeshire too) will be at a severe disadvantage when it comes to both finding employment and being able to play a full part in the life of the local community unless s/he is able to speak both Welsh and English competently.

That's not to say that any child who can't speak Welsh elsewhere in Wales won't be at disadvantage too—for being able to speak both languages will always be better than being able to speak just one of them—but that the disadvantage of not being able to speak Welsh will be less in those other areas.

Because of this, I don't think it unreasonable to allow parents a choice about the medium of instruction in the more Anglicized parts of Wales, but for that choice to be steadily withdrawn in the more Welsh-speaking parts of Wales.

Syniadau, 16 April 2012

It is perhaps timely that today's Western Mail carries a call for us to abandon the idea of teaching Welsh to second language standard, and for all children in Wales to receive enough of their education through the medium of Welsh to enable them to become fluent.

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More new Welsh-medium schools

This is my second post on new Welsh-medium schools which are opening or moving to larger buildings at the start of this new school year. The first was here.

Ysgol Treganna, Cardiff

The story of finding a new permanent home for Ysgol Treganna is worthy of being called a saga ... not just in the sense of being an epic stuggle against the dark forces of the political underworld, but because you'd have to be over fifty to remember how it started.

Now isn't the time to retell the story. Suffice to say the saga is now at an end, and it's time to celebrate the fruits of victory. The days of teaching in cupboards and corridors are over, the staff won't have to queue to use one toilet, and the kids will have space in which to learn and play ... both indoors and in green space outside. The end product is certainly better than it might otherwise have been, but the time it took to get there could have been so much shorter.

As an overview of what the school looks like, it's probably best to use the original design images, as nothing is tidy enough to take glossy pictures of yet:



Now the design has become reality, and these are some images which I've taken from the school's Twitter feed.









There will be challenges ahead for the new school. Ysgol Treganna had been a small, tight-knit school of just over 200 pupils in which everybody knew everyone else. When Tan yr Eos was set up as an overflow it again developed into a small, tight-knit school of just over 100. Now, not only have the two come together under one roof, but the intake will be increased to 90 each year, meaning that the school will eventually have 720 pupils including those in the nursery. It will be the largest primary school in Wales.

This is bound to change the ethos and character of the school for, even with the best will in the world, it will be now be hard for everybody to know everyone else. What before could have been done informally will probably have to be done more formally, and some will find it hard to adjust. But with good will and dedication any such problems can be overcome ... and perhaps even turned to advantage. I wish everybody concerned all the best in what promises to be a bright new future.

Ysgol Bro Edern, Cardiff

This is Cardiff's long-awaited third Welsh-medium secondary school. Although it has existed as a separate entity for the last year, it was located in temporary accommodation on the site of Ysgol Gyfun Glantaf. But it has now moved to a permanent new home in the buildings that used to house St Teilo's, while St Teilo's has moved into a brand new building which is so nice that it would be better not to show any pictures of it here. Let's not be envious ... well, not too envious!

It's much better to look on the bright side. Here are some pictures of Ysgol Bro Edern's new home:



The school has a new sign over the front entrance and even its own bus stop outside ... and the view from the top is fantastic.




There are lots of school buildings in Wales that are in worse condition. The important thing is that Cardiff now has a third Welsh-medium secondary school, with capacity for some 1,100 children, in a good location to serve the eastern part of the city. These are things that are worth celebrating. What matters more is the quality of the education and the dedication and enthusiasm of the staff, the pupils and their parents. I wish them every success as they stretch their wings and establish their own identity and ethos.

The next problem for Cardiff will be to find a location for a fourth Welsh-medium secondary – something that needs to be thought about now, because with the massive growth in Welsh-medium primary education in Cardiff, it will be necessary in only a few years' time.

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New Welsh-medium schools

This week marks the start of a new school year, and that means it's time to celebrate the opening of some new Welsh-medium schools, or some existing schools which have transferred to larger buildings. Here are two of them. There are more to follow.

Ysgol Bro Alun, Gwersyllt, Wrecsam

Ysgol Bro Alun is a brand new primary school to just to the north west of Wrecsam. This is from the local newspaper:

Overcrowding to end as new school in Gwersyllt opens doors

A new £5.9 m Welsh medium school in Gwersyllt will open its doors today. The community primary school for 3 to 11-year-olds is located on Delamere Avenue and will be known as Ysgol Bro Alun after its naming in February. Building work on the new school by contractors Harry Fairclough began in July 2012 and today it opens its doors to its first influx of pupils.


Long-time campaigner for the new Welsh school, Gwersyllt councillor Arfon Jones said: “We’re very pleased that at last the school is opening. It has been a four-year battle but we have prevailed. There has been very high demand in Gwersyllt and Llay for Welsh education and we welcome it opening. Ysgol Bro Alun will reduce the overcrowding in Plas Coch.”

The new school will share a headteacher and governing body with Ysgol Plas Coch, seeing Osian Jones take the helm. Mr Jones said: “It’s very exciting. There’s been a lot of hard work over the last few months and myself and staff have been in almost every day of the summer making sure everything is in place. The parents have been here for an open day and are very impressed. The facilities are second to none.”

To begin with 56 children have been enrolled in the nursery and reception classes. It’s expected the school will then grow year-on-year and other classes will be utilized.

... Each classroom of the school has direct access to external covered play and learning areas, which means pupils can go out come rain or shine. The school also has sustainable green features including a bio-mass central heating boiler, solar panels, high levels of insulation and triple glazing.

The Leader, 3 September 2013

Apart from the small thumbnail in the article, I don't yet have any pictures of the completed building. But these are the architect's drawings of what it should look like:





But did it get built as planned? Pretty much. The building contractors, Harry Fairclough, have been documenting the progress of the building works in this blog, and these pictures show it in a not quite finished state.




Hopefully, most of the mess will now have been cleared ... but the children will be quite capable of making enough mess of their own.

Ysgol Bro Teyrnon, Newport

Ysgol Bro Teyrnon is Newport's third Welsh-medium primary after Ysgol Gymraeg Casnewydd and Ysgol Ifor Hael. It opened in September 2011, but in a temporary location at Maindee Primary school in central Newport, just behind Rodney Parade rugby ground.

The good news is that it is now moving to a new permanent location in the building that used to house Brynglas Primary School, which was closed this summer because of very low pupil numbers. These are some pictures of it.



The new home is very welcome, and it's in a pleasant enough part of Newport ... however it's probably in the wrong part. It is to the north of the city, not far from Ysgol Ifor Hael in Bettws. The real need is for a new WM school to serve the centre and western half of Newport, where there is currently no Welsh-medium provision at all.

To illustrate why location is important, the intake for Bro Teyrnon when it was located in the at Maindee Primary in central Newport was drawn mainly from south west and central Newport (see here), and the intake was full, with 27 new pupils last year. But this year there have only been 14 admissions, indicating that a number of those in south west and central Newport are not prepared to travel the extra distance.

Newport therefore has two pressing problems: the first is to establish a new Welsh-medium primary school to serve the south west of the city; but the second is to establish a Welsh-medium secondary school. At present the only WM secondary school for the whole of Gwent (Newport, Monmouthshire, Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen) is Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw in Pontypool. This has been expanded, but will soon be inadequate to meet the growing numbers in the primary schools that feed it. There is now an urgent need for a new WM secondary school to serve Newport and south Monmouthshire.

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Broken Links

Sadly one of the file servers I have used extensively for hosting videos, pdfs, spreadsheets and the like has gone the way of many free things on the internet, and this means that a number of links in older posts will now be dead. Please accept my apologies for this.

But all is not lost. I'm glad to say that everything has been transferred to other servers, however it will take some time to work through all the affected posts and update them, and there'll probably be some that I'll miss. So if anyone does come across a broken link, would you please let me know about it by leaving a comment here.

The same applies to broken links to other sites. I've usually managed to keep copies of the external web pages and externally hosted documents I've linked to, so I'll be able to put these copies up on one of my servers and link to them instead.

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