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.
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.