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Welsh-medium education in Sir Gâr

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Welsh-medium education in Sir Gâr Empty Welsh-medium education in Sir Gâr

Post  MH Fri 12 Dec 2008 - 9:12

I originally posted on this subject on the WalesOnline forum under the title:

Critical point for Welsh-medium education in Sir Gâr

MH, 26 Sep 2008, wrote:
I've read this story on the BBC website:

Ad-drefnu addysg: Pryder rhieni

I looked for something in English, but haven't found anything yet. I won't translate the whole thing, but the essence is that Sir Gâr seem to be considering merging a Welsh-medium secondary, Ysgol Maes yr Yrfa at Cefneithin, with Ysgol y Gwendraeth, which is predominantly English-medium. However no-one quite seems to know what's going on and the parents are getting worried, getting in contact with Rhodri Glyn Thomas, the local AM to express their concerns.

The Council have said that they haven't made any decisions, but want to "improve" the present arrangements and they were doing everything by the book. Hardly the sort of transparency that is likely to inspire confidence. The council is still led by a Labour/Independents alliance, even though Labour lost more than half their seats in the local elections this year, ending up with 12. Plaid support grew from 16 to 31 seats, making them by far the largest party, but short of overall control. One of the biggest reasons for this change was disquiet over education in general, in particular the school closure/merger programme.

I've done a little research, and the raw data is in these documents. The first is the Single Education Plan, and the second an update on numbers.

Single Education Plan
Revised Targets, 31 July 2007

Both schools are relatively small by secondary standards and only a couple of miles apart. Maes yr Yrfa had 703 and Gwendraeth 540 in 2007. But the interesting thing is way the numbers for each school are set to change. If you look at the older Single Education Plan you will see the old 2008-2012 projections were:

Maes yr Yrfa ... 733, 756, 745, 747, 736
Gwendraeth ... 516, 482, 458, 450, 440

The WM school numbers were going to stay static, but the EM school numbers were going to fall, roughly in line with the generally demographic decline that is common to most of Wales. But now look at the updated projections, made when the numbers for 2008 were actually known:

Maes yr Yrfa ... 778, 809, 812, 824, 834
Gwendraeth ... 470, 420, 380, 358, 342

In other words, the same massive underestimate in the numbers wanting WM education that we see in many local authorities. In round terms the WM school is now projected to have 100 more than previously thought, the EM school 100 less. But of course one might reasonably ask, if they got the projection for Maes yr Yrfa wrong by 45 in one year, what possible confidence can we have even the new projected figures?

Given such overwhelming evidence it is clear that Gwendrath, with a capacity of 694, is slipping to the point where it is becoming unsustainable. It will soon be less than half full. On the other hand, Maes yr Yrfa has a capacity of 779 and is now already full.

Sir Gâr certainly need to do something, but merging these two schools is a recipe for disaster. It almost appears that they want to halt the increase in demand for WM education by getting rid of the distinctively WM school and forcing pupils into a merged bilingual school instead. So much for parental wishes!

Sir Gâr has three WM and eleven EM secondaries. As well as Maes yr Yrfa there is Ysgol y Strade in Llanelli and Ysgol Bro Myrddin near Carmarthen. All three are in the southern part of Sir Gâr. My guess would be that Maes yr Yrfa draws a good percentage of its pupils from further north, so the obvious answer seems to be to convert another, more northern school from EM to WM to serve the area around Llanymddyfri (Llandovery) and Llandeilo. All the current EM schools are projected to either remain the same or reduce in size, so there will be plenty of surplus capacity to allow this to happen.

But why stop at just one? At present we have the ridiculous situation where some 56% of Year 1 primary school pupils are taught in WM schools (either designated or community), but only some 20% of secondary pupils are in WM schools. Sir Gâr need to pull their finger out!
MH, 26 Sep 2008, wrote:
Just checked again. There is now something in English, here:

Parent concern over school plans

MH, 30 Sep 2008, wrote:
Although not directly related, this story from Cymdeithas yr Iaith criticizes Sir Gâr unusually severely for its policy of wanting to "rationalize" village schools. A pretext for closing them.

New Future for Village Schools

I mentioned this in my first post as one of the reasons why Labour halved and Plaid doubled their seats at the Local elections. This current crisis is just one more facet of a more long-standing malaise. School closures are a major cause of concern in rural areas, because it means closing one of the focal points of the community. Federation is a way of keeping them in their present location by sharing the administrative structure between a number of schools. Read the proposals here:

Consultation on Federation of Schools

Now is the time for Sir Gâr to radically reappraise its whole stance on education, and in particular to communicate more with parents. It isn't primarily a Welsh-medium issue, but WM education is what suffers simply because most rural areas are predominantly Welsh speaking, and so the community school is naturally WM.

But there is a bigger issue, in that Sir Gâr doesn't really seem to have come to terms with extending WM education to those areas (usually more urban) where parents may not be Welsh speaking, but want to make sure their children are. In historic terms I suppose it's hard to blame Sir Gâr, because they were at the forefront of Welsh language provision before it became part of the National Curriculum back in the 80s. But they just haven't moved on much since then. For example, only one EM primary school has been recategorized as a WM school since than, Furnace in Llanelli. There was another crisis this year when one of the designated WM schools (already increased in size by portacabins) was oversubscribed. The solution? To put up yet more portacabins somewhere else (Furnace, as it happens). The whole system is hopelessly reactive rather than proactive.

Statement on School Places, 4 Aug 2008

If they were to do similar surveys to those recently conducted in Newport, Wrexham and Swansea, I think they'd be surprised at how extensive the demand for WM education would be. In places like Gwynedd the figure is over 90%. In Ynys Môn the percentage is in the 80s and in Ceredigion it is in the 70s. By those standards Sir Gâr still has a way to go.

Sir Gâr could kill two birds with one stone by converting more EM community schools to WM. It would relieve pressure on the designated WM schools, and allow the community schools to retain viable numbers, thus keeping them open.
MH, 30 Sep 2008, wrote:
Meanwhile, here is another take on the story for anyone who's interested:

New rules could save village schools, WalesOnline
MH, 8 Oct 2008, wrote:
Another facet of the Carmarthenshire school reorganization plan has come to light, and was reported in the South Wales Guardian today:

School merger plans flawed

This proposal involves merging Ysgol Pantycelyn in Llanymddyfri and Ysgol Tre-Gib in Llandeilo. Both are secondary schools, but neither are Welsh-medium. However, from the Estyn reports about half the children that go to Pantycelyn have either been to WM primary schools, or speak Welsh to first language standard. And about 40% in Tre-Gib. These numbers are from 2005 and 2003 respectively, so the percentages are bound to be higher now.

In terms of numbers, Pantycelyn has a capacity of 566 and is undersubscribed with 165 surplus places. Tre-gib has a capacity of 910 and is oversubscribed by 50. The projections are

Pantycelyn ... 401, 361, 358, 340, 331, 326
Tre-Gib ... 960, 1009, 998, 995, 995, 965

Revised targets

It strikes me as quite bizarre that Sir Gâr could ever imagine closing one of these schools and merging the two on one site. They are about 20km apart. I'd guess that Sir Gâr are planning on closing the smaller Pantycelyn, but they would still have to substantially enlarge Tre-Gib to accommodate even the 1300 or so that is forecast for 2012. It is complete lunacy.

Both these schools are predominantly English-medium, although some subjects are taught in Welsh. And here, I would suggest, lies a much better solution to the problem.

One of the two schools needs to convert from being EM to being WM.

I don't particularly mind which, but it seems that Pantycelyn, being the smaller of the two schools and in the area with the higher percentage of Welsh speaking children, would be the best choice. I would guess that about two thirds of the 1300 pupils (in 2012) would choose EM at Tre-Gib, and one third WM at Pantycelyn. That would mean respective rolls of 865 and 435, both comfortably within the capacity of their respective buildings, and with a more equitable split than there is at present. Both schools would be viable, and neither community would lose one of its major focal points.

Also, we already know that parents who want their children to have a WM secondary education in the county have to travel south to Ysgol Maes yr Yrfa at Cefneithin, which is a journey of some 35km from Llanymddyfri. Making Pantycelyn WM would relieve some of that pressure on Maes yr Yrfa, as I mentioned above.

And yes, maybe asking parents in Llanymddyfri who particularly want an EM secondary education to send their children 20km to Llandeilo is a bit of an inconvenience, but it is:

1. A damn sight better than pupils having to travel 35km to get a WM education, as they have to now.
2. No more inconvenient than it would be if Sir Gâr closed Pantycelyn altogether, which is what they are currently suggesting.

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Welsh-medium education in Sir Gâr Empty More problems in Llanelli

Post  MH Fri 12 Dec 2008 - 9:14

In my post on 30 September, I mentioned that Ysgol Dewi Sant was oversubscribed by 25 places for the start of the 2008-09 school year.

Unfortunately, it looks like the situation is shaping up to be much worse for the coming school year. Ysgol Dewi Sant has already received 128 applications for its 60 places.

This is from Plaid's Carmarthenshire blog:

Council not responding to demand for Welsh medium education

In the November meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council, Plaid councillors from the Llanelli area launched a strong attack on the county council’s Executive Board for not doing enough to meet the demand for Welsh-medium education in the Llanelli area.

Cllr Huw Lewis said, “There is a serious crisis in Welsh medium education in the Llanelli area. Children are not getting the education that their parents want for them, and are having to appeal regularly against the education department’s decisions. I know that the capacity is being increased, but it not increasing fast enough to meet the ever-growing demand.

“Looking ahead to next September, Ysgol Dewi Sant has already received 128 applications for only 60 places. The situation is becoming critical, and parents requesting Welsh-medium education for their children are just not getting fair play. It is completely wrong that parents have no difficulty at all securing a place in English-medium education, but have to fight every step of the way for Welsh-medium places. That is not what a bilingual policy should mean.”

His call for urgent action was supported by Cllr Gwyn Hopkins, who drew attention to the low proportion of children receiving Welsh-medium education in Llanelli, compared to the rest of the county. “In Llanelli area,” he said, “only some 25% of the children are receiving Welsh-medium education, compared to 60% in the rest of the county. That statistic highlights the huge discrepancy in the provision being made by the council, and underlines the need to treat Llanelli as a special case.

“The policy adopted by the council a few years ago is being overtaken by events as the demand grows much faster than expected, and that means that the plans currently being implemented by the council are a case of too little too late.

“In Llangennech alone, where there are separate English and Welsh streams we are seeing continuous growth in the Welsh stream and a continuous fall in the English stream. The council must respond to the demand more quickly than is happening at the moment, and that means, at an absolute minimum, planning for a complete new school over and above everything else which is being done.”

Carmarthenshire Plaid Cymru Councillors, 8 Dec 2008
As I understand things, the plan was to build a new two form entry (60 pupil) school as part of the Stradey redevelopment. But that doesn't seem to be enough. Ysgol Dewi Sant's entry for next year is oversubscribed by 68 places already ... not to mention all the pupils in currently in temporary accommodation. The answer has surely got to be to re-examine the status of some of the smaller community schools in and around Llanelli, and convert a few from EM to WM.

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Post  Mond y fi Tue 6 Jan 2009 - 17:18

There's a piece on the WalesOnline site about Carmarthenshire today:

Apparently the plans that you mentioned in September, were not new, but had been worked on for 18 months. I can't say I'm all that surprised. If this had leaked out before the local elections last May, the Labour/Independent council would have been out on their ear.

Having one school on two sites is just going to mean herding children onto buses. That's not a good use of time or resources. And it definitely isn't green!
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Post  MH Wed 11 Feb 2009 - 19:19

There's another version of the story Mond y fi referred to here:

This is South Wales, 7 Jan 2009

More interesting than the story are some of the comments. It seems that parents who choose English-medium education are worried that their children might have to travel further to get it. Well of course they are, and I have every sympathy with them.

But so far as Maes y Yrfa and Gwendraeth are concerned, the demand for places at the WM school is rapidly growing, and the demand for places at the EM school has fallen to the point (a projection of 342) where it is no longer viable. Even if language were not an issue, Gwendraeth in its present form would have to close and its pupils be transferred to other schools.

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Post  Mond y fi Wed 11 Feb 2009 - 20:10

I hate to be the one to say it, but if some parents now have to send thier children a few miles further to get to an EM school they are only getting a taste of what children that want to go to a WM school have had to put up with for years!

And it's also wrong to say that all the primary schools in Carmarthenshire are WM, only about two thirds of them are. If parents want their children to have an EM education, there are enough schools available for them to go to.
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Post  MH Fri 13 Feb 2009 - 21:53

I've downloaded and read through Sir Gar's proposals, which are available from here:

Having slept on it, I think one issue in particular is causing most of the confusion that seems to exist, namely Sir Gar's language classification of schools, which I believe is at odds with the way most people think about what their children's school is. Most people think that schools are either Welsh-medium or predominently English-medium. But Sir Gar (following the Welsh Government's guidelines) has a much more "fine tuned" system of categorization (appendix 4):

Welsh Medium - All subjects (including RE and PSE) apart from English are taught through the medium of Welsh to all pupils, although some schools may introduce English terminology in one or two subjects.

Bilingual Category 2A - At least 80% of subjects apart from English and Welsh are taught only through the medium of Welsh to all pupils. One or two subjects are taught to some pupils in English or in both languages.

Bilingual Category 2B - At least 80% of subjects (excluding Welsh and English) are taught through the medium of Welsh but are also taught through the medium of English.

Bilingual Category 2C - 50-79% of subjects (excluding Welsh and English) are taught through the medium of Welsh but are also taught through the medium of English.

Bilingual Category 2Ch - All subjects, except Welsh and English taught to all pupils using both languages.
I don't think there is anything technically wrong with the new classification. I understand that a WM school in an anglicized area might well need to have a very markedly different ethos with as much as possible done in Welsh so as to "immerse" a child in a new language environment. This might (it's a point we can discuss) be different in a more Welsh speaking area.

But some parents clearly don't feel that way. Look again at the video in the first post. Some parents are obviously concerned about the plan to merge Maes yr Yrfa and Gwendraeth as a bilingual school because they wanted their children to have a WM education. Yet ironically, under this system, Maes yr Yrfa, which nearly everybody (quite rightly) thinks of as a WM school, is "officially" a category 2A bilingual school. Equally the other schools in the Dinefwr area are officially bilingual, even though most people think of them as predominantly EM ... not least the parents that commented on the This is South Wales website.

But this classification system is at odds with the natural expectations of parents. I believe parents have a right to choose either a WM or EM education for their children (even though they might have to travel to get it) and Sir Gar are in effect denying them that clear choice. Of course, as someone who wants to see an increase in the number of Welsh speakers the council probably thinks I should welcome a situation in which all schools move little by little along their "language continuum". But I don't. I believe the area should have one additional, clearly WM school (which would relieve the overcrowding pressure on Maes yr Yrfa) but that those who want a predominantly EM education should have one. What Sir Gar want is for all their schools to be somewhere in the middle ... which I think will suit no parent. The only argument in favour of uniformity is that it will make their job of administration easier.

They are trying to treat two different things (the overall demographic decline in number of children, and the increase in demand for WM education) as if they were one. Consquently they are failing to adequately address either.

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