Some of you will have taken an interest in the recent row in Llangennech, near Llanelli, concerning the language status of Ysgol Llangennech. It’s been widely written about, but to get a real taste of the whole thing, visit Cneifiwr’s blog.
Well, another, very similar row is brewing up here in north east Wales, which reflects what is happening in Carmarthenshire.
Dyffryn Ceiriog (The Ceiriog Valley) is one of the last few areas in the Wrexham County Borough where the Welsh language continues to be a significant force, where the language is spoken naturally along the length of the valley.
They have three primary schools in the Ceiriog Valley – Ysgol Llanarmon near the head of the valley is a naturalised Welsh language school, though it’s not noted as such with the authorities. The truth is that any monolingual English speaking child attending Llanarmon will be completely confident and fluent in both languages by reaching Key Stage 2.
Ysgol Cynddelw lies in the largest urban area in the valley, Glyn Ceiriog. Cynddelw is a dual stream school providing education in both Welsh and English, depending on the preferred choice of the parents.
Ysgol Pontfadog on the eastern end of the valley is an English medium school.
All three schools share the same head and Board of Governors.
The Board of Governors recently proposed that Ysgol Cynddelw become a Welsh Language school. The proposal has been accepted by the majority of the teaching staff, the parents and the community, and when the initial consultation was carried out earlier this year it went by without much of a fuss. Unfortunately the Council had to re-open the consultation because of an administrative error in the original consultation. A second consultation is therefore about to get underway.
Ten days after the end of the second consultation the local daily paper, the Leader, published a story about the proposals with comments from the Wrexham area rep of the NASUWT, Stephen Witherden.
Before I go into further details it’s worth noting that I have met Stephen and found him to be a lovely guy. I won’t hold the fact that he had a Labour placard in his garden during the last two elections (2016, 2015) when I was his local Plaid candidate against him. We had a lot in common politically, and had a worthwhile conversation about the Labour Government in Wales’ education policies.
However, as much as I might like him personally it doesn’t mean that I agree with him on everything. And in this instance I don’t.
While Mr Witherden is a representative of the NASUWT, and will undoubtedly have done his homework on the issue, his comments reflected personal opinion, rather than fact,
I spend quite a lot of time over in the Ceiriog Valley (because I love the place mainly, so I find any excuse to go over there!) and his impression is certainly not the impression that I get when talking to people in the community.
He also suggests that there is no demand for Welsh language education, but the stats disprove this completely:
Of all the pupils at Cynddelw there are 55 full time and 8 part time who have opted for Welsh medium, with 33 full-time and 2 part-time that have chosen English medium. But notice the younger years coming through (Nursery, Reception, Years 1 & 2): full time 29, part time 8 Welsh medium; full time 8, part time 2 English medium.
So the claim that there is no demand doesn’t stack up.
It is proposed that that those who prefer English medium education could go to Ysgol Pontfadog. Ysgol Pontfadog is a mere two miles to the east, and parents needn’t worry about transport because if the opt for an English language education then transport will be provided to the nearest school.
But this brings us to the oddest, or most problematic part of Mr. Witherden’s comments:
Ysgol Pontfadog has only got 15 full time students and 2 part time pupils. What’s worse is that in the younger years there are only 6 full time and 2 part time pupils. The numbers aren’t coming through.
The Governors have reached a point where they are concerned that they can no longer continue to maintain Ysgol Pontfadog unless there is a change in circumstances. Pontfadog could well close.
Being community minded, and believing in community based education I wouldn’t want to see Pontfadog close, certainly not against the wishes of that community.
And it seems neither would the Governors. What they propose could save Ysgol Pontfadog. If those pupils wishing to receive English Education go to Pontfadog, it would increase the numbers and keep the school open.
If the school closes how many jobs would be lost then? It’s seems odd therefore that a representative from a teaching union does not want to see steps put in place to keep teaching staff and a school open.
Finally Mr Witherden says,
That’s an interesting word.
Interesting especially as the provision, or lack of it, of Welsh medium education in Wrexham County Borough Council has been a hot topic over the last few years.
Parents and campaigners fought tirelessly for many years to establish Ysgol Bro Alun in Gwersyllt.
Parents are having to travel many miles across Wrexham during peak rush hour to take their children to a Welsh school, and because of a lack of places some children are being threatened with being separated from their siblings. There is simply not enough places to meet the demand.
Parents who wish for their children to receive Welsh medium education in Gresford, Rossett, Wrexham, Bangor-is-y-Coed and elsewhere don’t have this ‘choice’. This has been an ongoing issue for many years. I am a regular reader of the local papers and I am yet to see the NASUWT’s local representative voice his concern about the ‘lack of choice’ in this regard, though it is, when it comes to arguing against changing the status of a school to being a Welsh medium school, an important matter of principle.
This inconsistency suggests a deeper motive. I hesitate to say that it is anti-Welsh, but I can’t think of another motive. I’m open to suggestions.
It also shows a serious lack of understanding of what is Welsh medium education. Those studying through the medium of Welsh come out of Key Stage 2 totally fluent and proficient in both languages, and often have better educational attainments.
We do know that Stephen has expressed resentment towards Welsh Teachers in the past:
It’s not entirely clear what he is referring to here. As a general rule I think that I’m correct in saying that he’s wrong – teachers in Wales, across the board, are on the same levels.
He is probably referring to supply teachers. In this case he is correct. Welsh medium supply teachers do tend to take more home. It’s a simple case of supply and demand, because there are so few Welsh medium supply teachers in areas like Wrexham. But what’s once again bizarre is that a Union representative is arguing that teachers should not be getting better pay! Instead of arguing that this is something that his union and others should be arguing to improve the pay of all supply teachers, and instead of arguing that agencies take far too much away from teaching staff, Stephen is choosing to argue that Welsh Medium supply teachers should not be earning as much as they do.
He is also, as I mentioned earlier, a strong supporter of the Labour Party (I’m not sure if he’s a Labour Party member). Increasing Welsh medium education is his party’s policy. It is, fair play, a Labour Government that is promoting the policy to increase the number of Welsh language speakers to 1m by 2050. He, and other Labour supporters, must have lost that memo.
Stephen is a solidly left of centre union member, concerned about the pay and conditions of his colleagues, and for this he must be commended, and I have no doubt that he does fantastic work for the Union. But when it comes to Welsh he seems to have a blind spot and throws all of the principles of the union, standing together, solidarity, out of the window.
This then gave rise to letters of support for Mr Witherden in following editions of the paper.
“As a retired teacher, it is with disgust that I, and many colleagues have watched a form of apartheid spring up in our schools whereby segregation occurs between Welsh medium and English medium pupils…” said Mr Hamer of Llangollen.
Written by a Ms Morris in Gobowen, Shropshire.
Sadly this last comment says more about Ms Morris and her ilk than about the benefits of a bi-lingual education.
So what is it that makes people (a) hate a language so much and (b) so afraid of Welsh education?
We hear the same lines trotted out, that hardly anyone speaks it; that it has no economic benefit; that it would be far better to learn an useful language like Chinese; or the pearl I heard last week, that Welsh was all well and good for singing and poetry but that it’s not useful in everyday life, such as the lives of her grandchildren who study Physics and the sciences. Yes, that field of education which is littered with Greek and Latin terms.
I despair at this irrational and illogical response to Welsh. A language which is both old and young; which has a rich history but an amazing ability to evolve and adapt to the age. A language which has been persecuted and on the brink of death, but has stubbornly remained alive.
There are clear benefits to bi-lingual education. Not only will the fact that people are able to speak in Welsh allow them to converse more naturally and comfortably with other people in the community who speak Welsh as their language of choice; it will open a door to another world, another way of thinking, another way of looking at things; but also it has major cognitive benefits, allowing the learner to switch between languages, and develop the brains ability better.
It’s an added string to your bow. It’s another skill. It can only benefit you. It has no negative elements, no draw-backs.
Why wouldn’t you want your children to have the best start in life?
Why wouldn’t you want your children to have more skills?
Why would you feel such fear and hatred of a language?
A language won’t kill you. It won’t damage your health. It won’t make you homeless. It won’t make you starve. It won’t abduct your loved ones. It won’t lurk in the dark and pounce out on you when you least expect it.
I must be honest, I don’t get it. If someone could share the rationale I’d appreciate it.