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.
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.
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.