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Responses to the New Welsh medium education Strategy - Erthygl gan Michael Jones a gyhoeddwyd yn y Western Mail

Two years ago the then Minister of Education in Wales launched her new strategy for the development of Welsh medium education targeting help in achieving WAG’s aim to increase Welsh speakers by 5% by 2011 against the figure in the 2001 Census. This necessarily involved raising the number of WM places. Monitoring the response of local education authorities was to be transferred from the Welsh Language Board which had it statutorily. Local authorities were urged to respond positively to a departmental circular issued by the Minister’s predecessor, asking them to hold surveys to ascertain any unmet need for Welsh medium education and to make proposals to fulfil such need. The Minister warned that if LEAs ignored her strategy then she would take statutory powers, as her successor Leighton Andrews has reiterated.
After two years, what is the response in South Wales to the new strategy? Mixed: of the 15 authorities, six have done well; five badly and the four indifferently.
The good authorities are Newport, Torfaen, Caerphilly, Cardiff, the Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiganshire.
Newport carried out a survey in response to the original circular, found a substantial unmet need and agreed to open a second school in September 2009. Its immediate popularity demanded a second stream which was provided so that in 2010 60 children were admitted instead of 30. A second survey was undertaken among parents of children entering school in 2011/14, which showed a need for a third school to be opened this September.
Torfaen and the Vale of Glamorgan both carried out surveys, detected unmet need and have acted promptly to open new schools.
Since Caerphilly became an education authority in 1996 it has a record of opening additional schools and filling them, 3 new schools over 14 years, as well as extending others.
Cardiff (and South Glamorgan before it) has pursued a policy of working towards having one WM school in every ward of the city. Thus since 2000 it has opened 6 new primary schools and will open a third secondary school in 2012.
Cardiganshire has a scheme in hand to increase the Welsh element at its bilingual secondary schools (Cardigan, Lampeter, Tregaron, Aberaeron). Its plan to combine primary schools in the Llandysul area to have 3-19 Welsh medium provision on one campus is innovative, creating a firm foundation for the future of WM education locally. It just manages to join the “good” class.
Merthyr Tydfil, with no new school opened since 1976, heads the list of defaulters, proclaiming its intention not to “waste” money on a survey of unmet need.
Rhondda Cynon Taf with no new school opened since 1990 (by Mid Glamorgan its predecessor), did conduct and publish two surveys of unmet need in 2007 without doing anything to respond to the need for two additional streams in spite of past promises.
Neath Port Talbot responded early to the first circular by commissioning a survey, but the outcome of the survey has not been published. A second and a third survey were commissioned, showing that demand is far greater than current provision but there has been no speedy or any response.
Sadly Carmarthenshire must join the same group in the light of its refusal to expand designated Welsh medium primary provision and its persistence in arguing that its category A schools are also Welsh medium schools which is certainly not the case. Thus currently upwards of 15 children are being refused entry to Ysgol Gymraeg Rhydaman. There is no Welsh medium primary provision available in vast parts of the county.
Pembrokeshire promised a Welsh medium school in the Tenby area, after merging Welsh medium schools in the north of the county. This further unkept promise places this authority among the defaulters,
Swansea, after an appalling history between 1960 and 1989, saw an improvement under West Glamorgan which has partly continued since 1996 when Swansea again became independent. Three new primary schools have been opened and a second secondary school. Surveys of unmet need have been undertaken and the results published, one of which has led to a proposed new school in Morriston, rather bizarrely to be of 0.5 FE, But when an English medium school became redundant at Llanmorlais in Gower (a rural area with no Welsh school ) Swansea sold the site rather than open a Welsh medium school in spite of the wishes of 40 parents. Ministerial approval has authorised the extension of two Welsh schools Tirdeunaw and Pontybrenin but to a degree insufficient to provide space to accommodate children already admitted. In giving his approval the Minister comments on the inadequacy of Swansea’s proposals. Mediocre is the best verdict on Swansea’s response to the new strategy.
Bridgend has not opened a new Welsh primary since 1988 but it did open a secondary in 2008. It recognises the need for a further school in the Llynfi valley which it has not yet provided..
Blaenau Gwent and Monmouthshire have now carried out a survey. Both have improved the buildings of their Welsh Schools, but new schools have not been provided in Tredegar, Monmouth or Usk .
Leighton Andrews should write to all but 6 of these authorities reminding them to hold regular surveys of need and to act on the results. His letter to Swansea suggests that he is on the way to doing this.

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