Sunday 7 August 2016

Leading from the front - an open letter to Lee Waters AM

Lee Waters, the new Labour Assembly Member for Llanelli, is not a happy bunny. There's Brexit, for a start, and then the battle for control of Labour where Lee is backing that chameleon for all seasons, Oily Smith, a man with all the charm and Kaa-like appeal (jusssst trusssst in me) of Michael Howard, but without the brains.

The recipe for electoral success in the Labour Party is, apparently, first to depose a leader elected by an overwhelming majority of party members less than a year ago and then to engage in a bitter civil war to bring about unity. A sure fire vote winner, if ever there was, and on his Twitter feed, Lee notes in despair the loss in a by-election last week of a seat on Llannon Community Council to Plaid.

The loss of this "parish by-election" is Jeremy's fault. "I campaigned in this one, he wasn't (an) asset", says Lee.

To make matters worse for the new AM, most of the movers and shakers in his constituency party, including Jeff Edmunds (Labour leader on the County Council), Tegwen Devichand, her daughter, Sharen Davies, and Jan Williams (all county and  Llanelli town councillors) are backing Jez, with Lee and Nia Griffith looking a little lonely on the other side of the great Labour divide. Worryingly for Lee and Nia, the most prominent supporter of their stance in Carmarthenshire is Kevin Madge who has done so much in the last ten years to reshape the party's fortunes in the county and put it where it is today - in opposition and an increasingly distant second to Plaid in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr.

Taking up her knitting and her seat in the viewing area at the foot of the guillotine, Tegwen Devichand told the Carmarthenshire Herald this week that, "Nia is entitled to her opinion. When it comes to re-election, if people want to re-elect her, only time will tell". Ouch.

"Let them eat bara brith"

But Lee is not without his admirers. He recently contributed a piece to the IWA's Click on Wales, entitled "Labour's problems go way beyond Jeremy Corbyn", and this attracted a rave review from another electoral asset, Leighton Andrews, formerly of Rhondda parish.

"Brilliant piece by @Amanwy [Lee Waters' Twitter handle, Ed.] on the challenges facing UK Labour and why it has to be Owen Smith", thunders Leighton.

What the piece says over and over again in the course of nearly 30 cliché-ridden paragraphs is that a chasm has opened up between the party and "our people", i.e. the voters.

The solution is to elect Owen Smith who will restore party unity and credibility among the electorate.

In the unlikely event of a Smith victory, how would Oily restore party unity in the smouldering ruins when huge swathes of the party's membership loathe him and consider him to be a traitor, even before he sets about the herculean task of persuading Joe Public that he is not yet another privileged, besuited Blairite and would not sell Granny Smith for a chance to ride around in a ministerial limo?

It's all about leadership, or rather Leadership, says Lee. But what is Leadership?

Every political party faces the tension between furthering their own set of core values and responding to public opinion. And that’s where Leadership comes in, to balance these tensions, and persuade people to follow a course of action which honours the values of the party and chimes with the priorities of the electorate.

It all sounds a bit vague and misty, but fortunately Lee Waters has given the people of Llangennech in his constituency a demonstration of what this means in practice.

The County Council is proposing to merge the infant and junior schools in the village to create a new Welsh medium primary school, phasing out the English stream in the junior school as it does so.

Children who have started in the English stream would continue to be taught through the medium of English until they go on to secondary school.

As is always the case when the language category of a school is changed, there are mixed views among parents. There are those who couldn't give a toss either way, those who support the proposals, those who oppose them and those who have an open mind.

The latter group is important. They will have questions and will be looking for reassurance, but what they have got from Lee Waters is this headline from last week's Llanelli Herald:


As has happened elsewhere when English streams have been phased out, opposition has been extremely vocal and is driven by a small group of parents. Their individual motives vary, but as always seems to be the case, the more extreme objectors have set the tone and the agenda of the anti-campaign.

This has involved vitriolic attacks on staff, governors and councillors on Facebook, and a website which is full of badly written, rehashed myths, distortions and downright lies. The message which screams out at readers is that this is all an evil conspiracy to deprive children of an English education.

 Here's a flavour of the sort of thing being dished up:

Currently English Stream pupils are exposed to a very high level of Welsh during their school day and it has been expressed that this is just manageable level for pupils and parents.

Currently English Stream pupils have struggled and been upset to be excluded from such celebrations at the school, such as St David’s Day Assembly as it was all in Welsh and they could not understand it all.  

Currently English stream children have been upset to be not allowed to be sung happy birthday to them in English as must be Welsh only.  

The Llangennech objectors' website is not the first example of its kind, and there are some uncanny echos of other sites which have come and gone in other parts of Wales, with the slightly odd, Meerkat English most likely emanating from a notorious Labour activist in North Wales who believes that Carwyn Jones is an evil Welsh nationalist.

Dual stream schools are a classic civil service fudge, designed to give the appearance of producing bilingual children without actually doing so. There are always exceptions which prove the rule, but the fundamental flaw of dual stream education is that English dominates because it is the language that all of the children share.

Welsh medium education produces bilingual children, whereas "bilingual" education doesn't, and if you want your child to reap all the benefits which being able to speak effortlessly in two languages brings - both during their school years and later in life - then Welsh medium is the best way of doing it.

It's not just Carmarthenshire County Council which is saying this, but the Labour government in Cardiff, which Lee Waters supports, and it was while it was still under Labour leadership that Carmarthenshire County Council adopted a policy to move its schools along the language continuum, as the jargon has it. In other words, gradually to increase the use of Welsh in its schools, introducing modest elements of Welsh medium education in schools where there is none at one end of the spectrum, and phasing out English medium streams at the other.

Nobody is advocating doing this overnight, and at the current rate of progress, it will take decades to complete the change.

After staying resolutely silent for months about the row at Llangennech, at least in public, Lee Waters has now come off the fence to say that he supports the government's policy while advocating changes to it which would leave us with the status quo.

In other words, he proposes to pay lip service to bilingual education while opposing it.

His response to the Llanelli Herald can be found on his Facebook page:

The Llanelli Herald asked for my comment on the ongoing controversy in Llangennech about turning the village's dual-stream bilingual school into a Welsh-only one. This is a sensitive issue and I have not made public comment until now:

"The Welsh Government's policy is to increase the number of school places for Welsh language schools. I fully support that policy. Plaid Cymru run Carmarthenshire county council have decided to achieve this by turning all bilingual schools in the county into Welsh-only schools. I am not convinced this is the best way of advancing the language. In villages like Llangennech, where there is no other school, the policy will result in local children being split up and children from outside the village taking their places - in this case children from across Llanelli and from Swansea, even though there are places available in other Welsh medium schools in the area. Meanwhile many of the English language schools they are expected to attend in the area are full, and do not offer the opportunity to be educated in an environment where the Welsh language is vibrant. Until we address the ability of schools to teach Welsh as a second language well I think the children in the English stream of the Welsh schools have a far better chance of learning Welsh than they will by moving them out.

This is a very sensitive issue and I have not publicly commented on it until now. It is causing distress and division in Llangennech and has not been sensitively handled by some local politicians. To safeguard the future of the language we need to take people with us. And there is a real danger of alienating families in the village who want to keep their children within a Welsh-speaking environment. I think the Plaid-run council need to rethink the way this policy is being implemented".

The only reason why children from the village should be split up is if they are unfortunate enough to have hardline parents determined not to accept Welsh medium education in any form, and when the dust settles, there will be very few of those.

As for Welsh as a second language (Cymraeg ail iaith), Lee Waters should be aware of the report his government commissioned from Professor Sioned Davies and the testimony of other leading experts recommending an end to the concept of Welsh as a second language.

Lee Waters' response to policies introduced by his own party boils down to paying lip service to the idea while saying not in my backyard, not now and trying to blame another party. True leadership, as his party colleague Paul Flynn could tell him, often involves taking a stand on issues which some of your constituents won't like, and true leadership, with or without a capital 'L', means that you do your best to calm their fears and persuade them to think again.

One way he could do that is to help concerned parents in Llangennech to take a look at other communities where schools have phased out English streams, despite vocal opposition. They would be pleasantly surprised.

The people of Llangennech deserve better than this opportunistic and cowardly surrender to dogwhistle politics dressed up in nice words about alienation, distress and division.

Small wonder that there is so much cynicism about politicians in the mainstream unionist parties.


Anonymous said...

Does Slick Sid ( Oily Smith) remind you of a certain County Councillor?

m1books said...

Whilst finding your latest post on Lee Waters AM informative I find it disappointing that you use his comments on the proposed Llangennech School change of language provision to dish out another load of petulant comment about English speaking parents. These are not ‘extreme objectors’ mounting an anti-campaign ‘dishing out comments’ that don’t suit the welsh language activists. They are a group concerned about their children’s education and its future direction. They were sufficiently concerned enough to bother to turn up and present eleven public questions at a recent Education & Children Scrutiny Committee at County Hall. Throughout the County many parents responded to the newly revised Welsh in Education Strategic Plan Consultation. The report has just been published and there were twice as many points of opposition as those in support, such as parental choice concerns not always being compliant with the legislation or school organisation code procedures and consultation processes often being short and ‘obscured’. Other concerns with WM education include not being involved or able to support homework, understand meetings or school events. Issues around pupils with Additional Learning Needs are fraught, and there is resentment at the financial ‘carrots’ given to schools to increase welsh provision. There is often lack of clarity in school prospectuses about the extent of welsh teaching and the language ‘continuum’ in both primary and secondary. Until there is more genuine support and help for non-welsh speaking parents and greater transparency in information, process and procedures the County policies will continue to fall on unsympathetic and anxious ears creating the kind of community division we now sadly see in Llangennech.

Cneifiwr said...

I think we'll have to agree to disagree, m1books. Schools always cater for parents who do not speak Welsh. Progress reports are provided in English, and meetings where non-Welsh speakers are present are always held in such a way as to ensure that everyone can understand what is going on. There are also courses for parents who want to help their children, and it is easy for any parent to pick up enough in a short space of time to help children learn to read and with basic arithmetic. What's more children love it when their parents make the effort.

I tried in the post not to tar all of the objectors with the same brush, and there are some nasty extremist elements hovering on the fringes.

A great deal has been said during this particular campaign about children with learning difficulties. Objectively that is an extremely wide term covering relatively mild conditions to very severe disabilities. Where children are assessed as unable to cope, the council has said it will provide support.

But probably the most important point I was trying to make here is that, naturally enough, we all tend to live in our own bubble. The most constructive thing that could be done is to look at schools that have already been through the change which is being proposed for Llangennech. Ysgol Gynradd Aberteifi in Cardigan is now several years down the track. There was fierce opposition from some parents there, and no doubt others had concerns, but the myths and scaremongering have turned out to be just that.

J. Jones said...

What worries me particularly is that the director of education actually lied in the open discussion with parents over the Llangennech school change of medium, at least as I read it in the newspapers. There is quite a lot of evidence that Welsh medium schools actually under-perform in relation to similar English medium schools at all key stages...whenever those schools are benchmarked for free school meals eligibility.
Over the years language activists (and the WLB) got away with murder by pointing at raw WM/EM examination and assessment comparisons and trumpeting the superiority of WM schools.
Of course as soon as Socio-Economic Status is factored in the grim reality becomes evident. WM primary schools have only 11% eligible for FSMs while EM schools have 21% EFSM (2014). And why do WM schools under perform? That too is well evidenced; pupils from Welsh speaking Homes perform well in WM schools, pupils from non Welsh-speaking homes perform less well on average.

Cneifiwr said...

You are talking about secondary education, whereas the issue in Llangennech is primary education.

As we all know, there is no shortage of statistics when it comes to education, and anyone can extrapolate 'facts' from them to support their arguments, so it is unfair to accuse Rob Sully of lying.

As the Western Mail noted, Dr Jamie Roberts made it to Cambridge, "despite being taught in Welsh".

J. Jones said...

Nobody is going to deny that some outstanding and gifted people are also Welsh speakers. Making that comment is just puerile game playing. The test is when like with like is compared on average and across a large number of schools and pupils. Those EFSM figures are for 2015 Primary schools in Wales, you can find them if you look at "Academic achievement and free school meals eligibility 2015". It will show you the year by year breakdown at KS2 etc. And, no, statistics cannot be used to just prove anything if they are honestly used. Mr Sully merely ignored evidence that must be well known to him. I reminded him of it only this morning but, rest assured, he will ignore that letter.

Roberto said...

What's become evident throughout the campaign by those parents opposing the change to Llangennech schools is their lack of understanding on what bilingualism means. Bilingualism means that an individual can read, write and speak fluently in two languages. The only way you can ensure bilingualism is through Welsh medium education, therefore, even if children in English stream of dual stream school do 'have a lot of Welsh' as has been said by them, they still don't leave school bilingual. If monolingualism is such an advantage, why didn’t any of the questions submitted to the Executive Board by the campaign group to keep the schools dual stream, reference the benefits of speaking only one language opposed to two? Enough said I think...

Anonymous said...

Hi I am parent in Llangennech and am also one strongly opposing the change of language at the school, may I firstly say that after reading some other blogs re the school I am pleasantly surprised at the fairness of your comments and am relieved to see no slanderous or threatening comments as I myself have been subjected to this and it is by no means pleasant. Y
The parents who are opposing the change are not opposing the teaching of the welsh language, we have asked that the two streams remain and that the english stream get taught more welsh but keep the stream, the reply we got from the county council was that by increasing the welsh in the english stream it would be too much welsh, none of us are against the welsh language but we are against the enforcement of it, as a democracy we should not be dictated to and this is what is happening at the moment, if there was an english stream school within a reasonable and safe walking distance, we would not be against the change, but there isn't an option and the nearest options are full anyway. We only ask fairness and consideration for both streams in our lovely village, we are such a close knit village it would be a shame to ruin it just because some coucillors want to play God with our childrens futures.

m1books said...

Sympathies Anon 22.20. Everything you say has been said before by parents in other 'changed' schools periodically over the last 20 years. Your requests are not unreasonable but I fear you will be ignored. So you must also request that bilingualism is adhered to in all aspects of the way the school is run. Request translation facilities at all meetings, make sure all correspondence/SMS messages are in both languages, check homework is marked and reports are in English too so you understand your child's progress. Get a parent governor on the Governing Body and continue to lobby this AM!

Cneifiwr said...

With respect M1books, this does not reflect what goes on in WM schools.

* School reports are always in English for those who want them
* Newsletters, letters, SMS messages are also all in both languages
* All the meetings I have experienced always respect non-Welsh speaking parents. It is expensive to hire translation equipment, and not a good use of scarce resources by and large. It is possible to hold meetings in such a way that everyone can understand what is going on without everyone switching to English.
* Homework and schoolwork in Welsh should be marked in Welsh - it's for the child's benefit, not for the parent's. And it would be ludicrous to correct, say, a grammatical error and then have to translate the correction into English, e.g. "you should have written â'r, not a'r". If the parent wants an explanation, they can always speak to the teacher or use a contact book. Don't add to teachers' workloads to keep a few parents happy.

The tone of several of the comments here is depressingly negative. Anyone would think that non-Welsh speaking parents were being subjected to some sort of Taliban linguistic purism.

What is also striking about most of the contributions here is that they are really all about the rights of parents and their political/linguistic hang-ups. The aim of WM education is not to save the language or produce a new generation of Plaid voters, but to give children a fully rounded education, to ground them in the incredibly rich cultural heritage of the country they live in, give them enhanced cognitive and learning skills and open up opportunities in their lives after school, giving them advantages which EM educated children simply won't have.

J. Jones said...

I have a question...If immersion language teaching is so beneficial why don't Carmarthen CC insist that pupils from Welsh speaking homes go to English medium schools? The reality is and always has been that pupils from Non Welsh speaking homes do NOT become equally fluent in Welsh in comparison to pupils from Welsh speaking homes. Look at the information from this FOI :-

What you see is the elite from Welsh speaking homes going on to glory and the chaff from non Welsh speaking homes falling by the wayside. At the end of a childhood of WM schooling in Carmarthenshire will pupils from Non Welsh speaking homes get Welsh essential jobs with the LA? Will they become Welsh teachers in the next batch of WM schools in the county? No. They will have to leave.
So, when you say " The aim of WM education is not to save the language or produce a new generation of Plaid voters" you are exactly wrong; the aim of WM schools is to provide employment for Welsh first language teachers and their children and to provide Welsh first language officers for the new all Welsh speaking council. Does the LEA care about children's education? Not one bit.

m1books said...

Yes, we will have to agree to disagree on this one Cneifiwr, and will say no more other than agree with Jones 17.43 and quote an informed friend who said "parents with dyslexic children may as well start packing..."

Cneifiwr said...

Dear J Jones

You clearly have a problem bordering on obsession with the Welsh language and Welsh medium education. I have just reluctantly deleted your latest comment because I suspect that publishing it will encourage more in the same vein.

I can live with being called puerile, but to maintain as you now do that WM is no more than a job creation scheme is offensive to all of the staff, children and parents who work to make their schools a success.

May I politely suggest that you get your own blog, if you haven't already got one. I'm sure you will know the one I mean.

Gary Jones said...

As someone who has followed the Llangennech story, I have been repeatedly struck by the shrill, not to say hysterical nature of the arguments advanced by those opposed to Welsh Medium Education. The speed with which the lawyers have been reached for - even between anything like a decision has been reached - says more than a little about the entrenched nature of those engaged in the argument against WME. Their minds are not only made up but closed on the issue. The embarrassing thing for some of those concerned parents who have been the loudest is that they do not even have children in the school. In addition, the groupthink that produced some of the questions at the last Council meeting was startling in its crassness.
Sample question: "I have made up my mind about this issue even though I have not bothered to read either the policy document formulated by the Labour Government in Cardiff Bay and the policy entered into two years ago by the Labour-led administration of which the current leader of the opposition was a senior member. As I cannot be bothered to come up with a question of my own, I have clubbed together with a series of contentious and fallacious statements, ended by a question: why?"
The way in which the Labour party, both in Llangennech and in the Llanelli Labour Party, have cynically and opportunistically tried to exploit the issue of WME is repellent and morally bankrupt. This is the policy of their party in Wales and their own policy in Carmarthenshire.
Had Jeff Edmunds risen to the leadership of the Council, he would now be defending the policy and pushing it through. At least Kevin Madge was bloody useless. He was not useless AND a hypocrite.

Anonymous said...

You say atleast Kevin Madge was just useless not useless and a hypocrite . He was leader long enough and this man keeps getting reelected . Edmunds yes he us a hypicrite and puppet to cruella and her daughter so hes just spewing out what she wants . Labour have gone dispicable all round be allowing them to rule ut and bully people in and outside the party . They were all for welsh schools before they lost control in county . They most deginately would have implemented the changes but now they are in opposition they are trying to make the electorate think they are there for the people which is laughable . They are only there for themselves . Like the selection process low and behold dafen gets selected then het daughter gets it in Llwynhendy because all of a sudden there is a rush on new members namely akhtars family so akhtar and davies are selected and a decent man Chris Beer who would actually do the work (not rely on officers to do it for him ) gets pushed out . This it seems is going on all over Llanelli as Tonia Antoniazzi etc are kicking off screaming for party rules to be adhered to in the selection process . Shambles again