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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15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Recent reports in the Carmarthen Journal suggest that the governing body of Ysgol y Ddwylan (NCE) are also reconsidering the dual language status of the school.

MH said...

I've been trying to keep an eye on the situation at Ysgol y Ddwylan, Anon. The latest report I've seen was at the end of February, here. But if you've seen anything more recent, please tell me about it.

Obviously a proper consultation would need to take place, but I would guess it's fairly certain that the eventual decision would be yes, for the same reasons as given for Ysgol Gynradd Aberteifi and Ysgol Pencae. But the school is on the Sir Gâr side of the river, so things might move at a different pace.

In Ceredigion there is now only a handful of EM primaries left. New Quay (where the EM school is only has 78 pupils) and a cluster around Aberystwyth, all of them with significant use of Welsh. It may well be that these schools will start teaching the Foundation Phase in Welsh, and naturally evolve into Transitional and then Welsh-medium schools. I'd like to know if Ceredigion, especially now it has a Plaid administration, has any plans for this progression.

There was also a Dual Stream primary at Llanbedr, but this became part of the new 3-18 Ysgol Bro Pedr last year.

Anonymous said...

There are a number of dual stream schools in west Wales.There are probably about 10 in Carmarthenshire alone. They are in small towns or large villages such as St Clears and Yr Hendy which are not big enough to have two schools. Many of these schools have seen a real change over the last few years with parents seeing the advantage for their children being fluent in Welsh and English and not being restricted to one language only. I agree with you that the introduction of the Foundation Phase has been a contributory factor for those parents who do not speak Welsh or parents who come from families with only one parent being a Welsh speaker or more importantly in my view parents who think they don't speak Welsh well and may struggle to write in Welsh. This last category may worry that they will not be able to support their children adequately with home work. They see their children coping well in school and are also given the opportunity to switch to English after nursery/ reception if things are not going well, but in the vast number of cases there is no problem so they carry on for what was the rest of KS1 and then make a choice as their daughters or sons enter the junior department. By this time their offspring have had four years in a Welsh language environment, are fluently bilingual and the KS2 Welsh streams are now growing in relation to the English streams.
In at least one of these schools twenty years ago there would have been something like twenty in the Welsh stream and 160 in the English stream. Today the school has grown in size by nearly 100 pupils (Difficult to know as a casual observer if the development of Welsh is a factor) and has more students in the Welsh stream than the English stream. There are more pupils in the Welsh stream in Year 6 than pupils in the English stream and there are very few pupils opting for the English stream in the Foundation phase. This growth in the Welsh stream in relation to the English stream in this community is driven by parents wanting a bilingual education and might be as significant as the growth in Welsh medium in places such as Cardiff, but I think it may be difficult to prove as i'm not sure it is easy to access the ratios in these schools and plot the change over time.

Cneifiwr said...

Unfortunately there is an English medium alternative to Ysgol Gynradd Aberteifi in the form of Ysgol y Ddwylan in Newcastle Emlyn (about 10 miles away).

Ysgol y Ddwylan was founded as a community school, but there are now significant numbers of parents commuting long distances from Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion to ensure that their offspring are spared exposure to Welsh. As a result, the school is now full to overflowing.

Proposals to change the status of the school to Welsh-medium only were met with predictable howls of protest, bordering on hysteria, from the commuting mums. Some pass half a dozen more local schools in their 4x4s twice a day as they ferry their charges to the safety of the English stream in Ysgol y Ddwylan.

There was a stormy meeting at the school which was held to explain the advantages of bilingualism, but these monolingual English experts were going to have none of it.

For its part, the Carmarthen Journal did its best to try to whip up an anti-Welsh frenzy.

Now it seems that the plans have been put on hold, possibly indefinitely, leaving Newcastle Emlyn as an English enclave.

MH said...

Thanks for your comment, Anon 08:05. I very much agree with what you say at the end: that the changes that are happening in places like Ceredigion and Sir Gâr are as significant as the growth of WM education in south east Wales.

I agree with what you said before that, too. It is interesting that there is a concentration of DS schools in Sir Gâr, but that they have now all but disappeared in Ceredigion (with a question mark over how to describe the primary department at the new Ysgol Bro Pedr). I think this reflects the policy differences between the two counties. I was looking at Ceredigion's Welsh Education Scheme for 2010-2015, here, last night. The change from DS to WM at Aberteifi is far from a one-off. It is simply a continuation of what has been happening gradually over the years. As mentioned in 8.5 of the WES, the same change from DS to WM (A/B to A using the old terminology) has happened in these three schools in recent years:

Ysgol y Dderi (in Llangybi) ... Sept 2001
Ysgol Aberporth ... Sept 2003
Ysgol Llandysul ... Sept 2004

There is also a policy (p4) that says:

"Schools which federate or merge, together with any new primary schools that are opened, will be defined, in accordance with the Welsh Assembly Government document of 2007, as a ‘Welsh-medium’ school. These schools will provide 100% of the Foundation Phase educational experiences and at least 70% of Key Stage 2 education through the medium of Welsh.”

So for some time the idea has been that if there are any organizational changes to a primary school, the change becomes the opportunity for the individual school(s) concerned to make the linguistic shift to WM.

But that begs the question: "What if there is no change?" It's a bit like Sweden joining the euro: the policy is that Sweden should join, but there is no way of making them start the process unless they want to. That seems to me to be the situation with the handful of predominantly English-medium schools left in Ceredigion. It does seem very odd that Aberystwyth should have five EW schools, but only one WM school (albeit a large one). In other circumstances I would expect a degree of federation or merger, especially with a very small school like Cwmpadarn (78 pupils) being so close to other schools; and I wonder if it hasn't happened because it and the school it federated or merged with would have to become WM.

But perhaps it's just a question of biding time. Why force something to happen when perhaps, in a few years' time, there might be a change of circumstances in one of those five schools which would make it more eager to increase the WM provision in that school?

The only other anomaly in Ceredigion is at New Quay. Ysgol Cei Newydd is an EM school with significant use of Welsh. The WES says (p19) that it:

"makes extensive use of Welsh in KS1 across the curriculum. Welsh is taught as a First Language to some pupils in KS2 as well as introducing a number of cross-curricular aspects through the medium of Welsh."

Teaching Welsh as a first language to some pupils in KS2 almost implies that it is becoming a Dual Stream school. And maybe the only reason it isn't formally classed as one is because it's so small (78).

MH said...

I can imagine the situation you describe at Ysgol y Ddwylan, Cneifiwr. Yet I would say this: Why wasn't the same thing happening at Aberteifi? I'd have thought that if EM education was in short supply and a significant proportion of parents wanted it, there would have been more than 2 children in Aberteifi in the EM stream. Surely some of the 4x4s would have been driving to Aberteifi instead of NCE.

The "howls of protest" were the same when it was proposed that Aberteifi should phase out the EM stream. There was a petition signed by 1,000 people. But in reality, the parents of only two children chose the EM stream rather than the WM stream.

I don't know the breakdown between WM and EM at Y Ddwylan on a year-by-year basis, but I know that in 2011 it was 56% WM to 44% EM overall.

We'll have to wait and see if a consultation document for Y Ddwylan is published. I did write to Cefin Campbell (of Sbectrwm) about it, but didn't get a reply. However I think what 08:05 says makes a lot of sense. If early years teaching is done in Welsh, and a choice is only made after a few years of teaching in Welsh, parents will be much less apprehensive. The "howls" are largely based on misconceptions and misunderstandings about how WM education works.

One reason for the difference in outcome might well be because Aberteifi is in Ceredigion and Y Ddwylan in Sir Gâr; that Ceredigion were generally supportive of the change, but that Sir Gâr are happier to keep things as they are rather than rock any boats. Yet things are changing in Sir Gâr ... which I'll expand on when I get round to finishing my next post.

Cneifiwr said...

I look forward to your next piece Michael.

Perhaps it was coincidence, but the change in Aberteifi saw the sudden appearance of an anonymous website alleging mistreatment of children in WM schools (remember the "Welsh Taliban"?). There were several things about it that pointed to someone living in the Aberteifi/NCE area.

Ysgol y Ddwylan has also had to put up with persitent complaints that the English stream is under-resourced and under-funded compared with the Welsh stream, and on at least two occasions school staff have been the victims of vicious campaigns of attack on Facebook.

Having an English stream doesn't just attract mums in 4x4s, it seems.



lionel said...

I fail to believe that in 2013 we still have English medium schools in Ceredigion and Carmarthen. These should have been stamped out 20 years ago. Perhaps the catastrophic decline in the language in these areas would have been avoided had Gwynedd's policy been adopted in 1970 whatever it was. There are still the dirty little secrets of Holyhead High and Friars though I suppose, even in Gwynedd/Anglesey

MH said...

I find it hard to believe too, Lionel, although I don't think I'd say "stamped out". "Phased out" would be rather more appropriate.

Gwyedd's policy has been highly successful. Here's a cut and paste from a comment I wrote some time ago:

Helpfully, Gwynedd use "language cohorts" as a way of obvectively measuring language skills in both Welsh and English. As we can see in their latest WES, they have five cohorts. In 2009,

78.5% ... were competent in both English and Welsh (A)
4.28 % ... were competent in Welsh but with weaknesses in English (B)
7.94% ... were competent in English but with weaknesses in Welsh (C1)
1.6% ... were competent in English but not Welsh (C2)
7.6% ... were not competent in Welsh or English (CH)

The last category is important, because there will always be a percentage of children with literacy problems, and not including them would distort the figures.

I think this shows that Gwynedd's policy is remarkably successful. The percentage in Cohort A was only 67.7% in 2005. Now, less than 10% of children in primary schools are not competent (for their age) Welsh speakers; and less than 2% can be described as non Welsh speakers.


What we can say is that the problem is being addressed now, and it just needs to be carried through. Gwell hwyr na hwyrach.

Dylan said...

Am I right then that Cwm Rhymni will soon have some 2,400 pupils over two sites? That will make it by far the largest WM school in Wales. Are there any larger EM schools? Cardiff's Whitchurch High is much the same size. Has there been much discussion on the size of the school?

MH said...

Yes, according to the projections (which will probably turn out to be an underestimate) it will be over 2,400 by 2021, Dylan. And you're right that Whitchurch High is currently the largest. Cardiff wanted to reduce it from 12 to 9 from entry, but they thwarted the plan by becoming a Foundation School.

As I said in the post, I have seen a number of different descriptions of what the St Ilan campus will be. I don't know whether people keep changing their minds, whether there is a "masterplan" at the end of it all, or whether people are just playing it by ear.

Personally, I would always prefer two smaller schools to one huge one. So I'd like to see St Ilan eventually become a school in its own right, probably when those entering Year 7 now reach Year 11. But there are any number of options. The new Bro Edern in Cardiff is already a school in its own right, even though it currently has only two year groups.

Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

I find it strange that noone seems to know the status of the Caerffili annex. Don't councils have to go through a statutory consultation prior to setting up maintained schools?

I know Caerffili CBC are bad at public relations, but this seems ridiculous. Faith seeking understanding: set it up, sort out the fiddly bits later?

MH said...

I'd welcome any clarification from someone who knows more than I do, but I think the current position is clear, Emlyn. It is part of Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni, under one head teacher and one board of governors. As such, it would not need a statutory consultation any more than putting up a set of temporary classrooms would. The classrooms just happen to be more solidly built and quite a long way away. The same thing happened in Cardiff. What eventually became Ysgol Glan Ceubal was officially part of Ysgol Melin Gruffydd for a year before it became a school in its own right.

I think (based on what recently happened in Gellionen, Pontybrenin and Tirdeunaw in Swansea, as mentioned here) that statutory consultation and approval would only be required if it increased the capacity of the school by more than 25%. So perhaps things can continue for the next year or so without having to make any official change. That would give a bit of breathing space to decide what to do. However I'm sure that statutory consultation and approval will be required for Ysgol Gymraeg Caerffili to close and become part of an all-through school (either Cwm Rhymni or a new St Ilan) ... or, the other way round, for Ysgol Gymraeg Caerffili to become an all-through school instead of just a primary school.

MH said...

The new pupils have just moved into St Ilan, and there's an article about it here.

It looks like it's going to be called Y Gwyndy.

Anonymous said...

"Stamped Out"? Wow. Strong language. Is this a forum for banning English? Wouldn't it be better if the Welsh 'education system' produced resepectable results first, and then moved on to embrace the real world, where useful, and not useless languages are taught by default?

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