Tuesday 22 January 2013

Ysgol y Ddwylan in Welsh shock!

The Carmarthen Journal billboard at the petrol station last night screamed "SCHOOL TO TEACH IN WELSH SHOCK". As headlines go in this part of Wales, that's a bit like "POPE IS A CATHOLIC!"

In the paper itself is a report that governors of Ysgol y Ddwylan in Newcastle Emlyn are proposing to change the category of the school and to phase out the English stream. The report is reasonably balanced, although the sensation-seeking headline "Primary governors reveal plans to ditch school English stream" was probably the first shot in what could turn out to be a bitter battle.

Ten miles down the road from us, Ysgol Gynradd Aberteifi took a similar decision last year, and a vocal minority kicked up a storm in the local press, with all of the usual prejudices and ill-informed arguments getting an airing. The campaign culminated in the appearance of the notorious BiLingo website, almost certainly the work of someone in the south of Ceredigion, and that row was duly picked up by the Daily Mail and other London newspapers.

The chair of governors of Ysgol y Ddwylan, Sioned Thomas, told the newspaper that the school should never have been split into English and Welsh streams in the first place. The County Council is said to be supportive of the change, and that is at least something. The town's senior school, Ysgol Gyfun Emlyn, is also taking steps to improve its Welsh language provision.

Bearing in mind that the 2001 census showed that 69% of the population of Newcastle Emlyn was Welsh-speaking in 2001, you have to ask what kind of thinking it was the led the local authority to maintain a large English stream in the town's only primary school and to run an overwhelmingly English secondary school. Details of what has happened to the language at a local level since 2001 are due at the end of this month, and we can be certain that the percentage for Newcastle Emlyn will not be 69%.

If anyone in the upper echelons of the council wonders why there is so much anger about the authority's attitude to the Welsh language, the example of what has been done to this small traditional market town may help to explain it to them.

Ysgol y Ddwylan has around 280 pupils aged between 4 and 11 and serves both the town and several of the surrounding villages. It has a deservedly good reputation and acts as a feeder school for both Ysgol Dyffryn Teifi in Llandysul and Ysgol Gyfun Emlyn in Newcastle Emlyn itself.

Currently all children from Year One onwards opt for either the Welsh or the English stream. Unlike the primary school in Cardigan where there were just two children in the last intake into the English stream, the English stream at Ysgol y Ddwylan is large.

There have been mutterings from some parents of children in the English stream in the past who feel that the Welsh stream is better resourced, although they would be hard put to come up with any evidence to back up that claim. It is also true that a minority of the parents are of the type that occasionally feature in Jac o' the North's blog.

The next step will be a formal consultation, and if the proposals are implemented, children currently in the English stream will continue through the school unaffected.

If the proposals are presented sensitively and the benefits explained, there is every reason to expect that a majority of parents will accept the change, but the County Council needs to pull out all the stops and ensure that it provides additional resources to help children from non-Welsh speaking homes with extra language tuition where needed.

In the last year or so, a number of children from homes where no Welsh is spoken have been moved from the Welsh stream to the English stream because of poor language skills. That will not be an option in the future, and for the sake of those children and the rest of their class mates, it is essential that additional support is provided.

As for the parents themselves, the Welsh Government has sponsored a scheme called Cymraeg i'r Teulu (Welsh for the Family) to provide heavily subsidised Welsh language classes specifically designed for parents with children being taught through the medium of Welsh. As with so much else in Carmarthenshire when it comes to the language, provision has been extremely patchy to put it mildly.

Although the scheme cannot hope to produce parents who become fluent in Welsh with just an hour and a half of teaching once a week over a year or so, it does at least help non-Welsh speakers get their bearings in the language, and kids love it when they see their parents taking an interest, even if that usually takes the form of mockery as mum and dad struggle to pronounce words correctly.

Contrary to the expectations of cynics, parents attending these course are not middle class "pushy parents", but overwhelmingly ordinary working class people who just happen to care about their children's education. Cymraeg i'r Teulu may not help them understand every word in their children's reading books, but they will at least know how to pronounce words, and will definitely get the gist of the story.

As for the wider picture the proposed change, even if long overdue, will put up a sign to anyone considering moving to this part of Wales that this is not a rainier version of Billericay or Birmingham. If you don't want to make an effort to integrate, don't come here.


Anonymous said...

Dwi'n gallu gweld brwydr ffyrnig ar dudalennau'r Tivy Side dros y mosoeddd nesaf.

Anonymous said...

Very sad that the CCC rag is to include glossy paper and plastic. The glossy is not absorbent and plastic clogs up my paper shreadder. After undoing and re-cycling the plastic they make wonderful animal bedding as the majority I collect are pristine,unread and go through the shreadder beautifully. I have noticed in the past couple of years that the Journal is not as well thumbed. No longer am I tempted to stop shreadding to read the articles. Thank you for keeping me up to speed with your blog.

Anonymous said...

Do you seriously expect 37% of the population (English born in Ceredigion)and their children, backed up by the British state to integrate into a minority language culture?

Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

Anon 13:30 appears to have forgotten that the "British" (i.e. English) state plays no role in education in Wales. We are in the midst of something called devolution, and therefore although the writ of Michael Gove might well run as far as Bristol and Birmingham, it doesn't cross into Wales.

I think it is fantastic for social cohesion in this area that Ysgol y Ddwylan is becoming a single-stream Welsh-medium school. Fantastic for children born to Welsh, English and Polish speakers alike, as well as to the populace at large.

The single-stream decision was taking in Aberporth and Llandysul some years ago, and is being adopted in Cardigan from this September.

I see no reason why it shouldn't work in NCE, and if some die hard klein Englanders insist on Englisch, they can still get it in Carmarthen or Fishguard or Lampeter.

Anonymous said...

Mi ddylai'r ysgol hon i fod yn un Categori A o'r cychwyn.

Anonymous said...

How can you expect a majority to integrate into a minority? Only a minority in Ceredigion identify as Welsh or speak Welsh. A great change has taken place in the population of the county, as in many parts of Wales, and there is nothing to be done about it.

Cneifiwr said...

Anon @7.55 While the census shows a drop of 6% for the county as a whole, the picture at a local level will be much more mixed. The inclusion of Llanelli in the figures did not help matters. There will undoubtedly be areas in which Welsh speakers are in the majority.

Anonymous said...

Cneifiwr, don't for a moment think I am reveling in this. What has happened in Ceredigion is a tragedy. The process of demographic change is continuing and, indeed, accelerating.

Anonymous said...

re: Cneifiwr comment at 9:20.
Just out of personal interest, how did the inclusion of Llanelli not help the county figures?
Surely Llanelli was included in the 2001 Carmarthenshire census results.

Also, do you know when the results for smaller divisions will be available?

Cneifiwr said...

There has been a lot of inward migration everywhere, but in Llanelli more than other parts of Carms. In particular there is now a large and expanding Polish community there.

The break down by locality is due on 30 January.

Anonymous said...

I note you quote out of date statistics from the 2001 census to support your point. Data from the 2011 census stated that Welsh - speakers were now in a minority in Carmarthenshire. As a person born and brought up in West Wales I agree with bilingual education but firmly agree in parental choice. Personally I am very upset that Ysgol Y Dwylan is to become a welsh medium school. As I now face the prospect of having to drive my children to and from Carmarthen on a daily basis to attend an English medium school. As for integration, I am horrified to learn that as an English speaking household I am not considered a worthy member of society!

Anonymous said...

The breakdown by locality will show Llanelli to be overwhelmingly Welsh born if not Welsh speaking. Migration into the counties of Carms and Cered is from England.
Carms, born in Wales, 76%, born in England 19% (largely in the rural districts).
Cered born in Wales 55%, born in England 37%.
Migrants from Europe in both counties account for less than 2% of the population.
Your previous correspondent might wish to note that the name of the school in question is Ysgol y Ddwylan. His English could use some attention too.

Dysgwr said...

My daughter was born in Carmarthenshire to English parents and attends Ysgol a Ddwylan in the Welsh stream. We chose the Welsh stream so that she can be fluent, something which we in spite of much effort in learning the language are not yet able to give her. She doesn't need to go to school to be fluent in English, and I don't see how being bilingual and gaining the significant 'brain-training' which bilingualism at a young age has been shown to give can possibly be a disadvantage!!! It has baffled me immensely over my ten years in this country how many people don't want to take advantage of the opportunity for their children to be bilingual.

Mari Jones said...

First of all can you confirm what the "usual predjudices and ill-informed arguments are" My argument against Ysgol Y Ddwylan becoming Welsh medium is that parents do not have the choice to educate their children in English. The argument used by Dr. Sioned Thomas "the school should never have been split into English and Welsh stream in the first place" is no argument at all. I assume she is not a medical doctor, as no scientist would put forward such an invalid argument.
The fact that there are other Welsh medium schools in the area is the very reason why Y Ddwylan should stay as it is.
I was born in Wales and have not lived a day outside of Wales in my life. I was born in a non-Welsh speaking area of Wales and moved to this area 10 years ago. I have tried to learn Welsh, but local Welsh speakers are not keen to help, but mock you in Welsh when they think you can't understand. I work in an apparently bilingual school, which treats its non-Welsh speaking staff and pupils as second class citizens.
Wales is a coutry that has 2 official languages that have equal status in law, so why are people like me forced to have our children educated in Welsh? We already travel 16 miles to Y Ddwylan so he can have the chance of an English medium education - how much further should I have to travel?
I would love you to use the argument of "if you don't make an effort to integrate, don't come here" to black or asian people. If you did you comment would be called racist.
In the 1950s Welsh speaking parents were forced to educate their children through the medium of English. Do you think that this was right? If not, how can you think it is OK to force non-Welsh speakers into Welsh medium education?
I am not against Welsh medium education or anyone being bilingual, but what I want is the freedom to choose.

Cneifiwr said...

Mari, thank you for getting in touch. I know that this is a very emotional issue for many, but I really hope that parents will be prepared to listen to the evidence in favour of bilingual education. As you know, the head has written to all parents, and there will be meetings soon to explains the proposals properly.

I am also very sorry to hear of your experiences as a learner. There are idiots everywhere, but I know many, many Welsh learners (it's part of my job), and bad experiences really are the exception. Most Welsh speakers locally are very supportive. In Cardigan over 60 Welsh speakers volunteer regularly to go along to Welsh classes to chat with learners. Unpaid. It would be good to have something like that in Newcastle Emlyn, wouldn't it?

Anonymous said...

As a Welsh man from an English speaking household I am disgusted that the choice to educate my children through their 1st language is being torn away from us. I am not against welsh medium education in fact completely the opposite I believe that a parent should be able to opt for their children to be educated through their 1st language OR their second language if the parent feel that the child can cope with this. As I have done already my preference would be educate my children through the english medium stream. I Already travel some 16 miles to NCE to accommodate this preference as we have no closer DS or EM school. Whilst my 1st child will not be affected by the changes my second will as I will not be able to opt for this for my second child who is yet to enter education. Having studied Welsh to GCSE level I recognise how difficult it can be as a learner to keep up with others more linguistic than yourself. I worry that my children will not only fall behind in class but will be unable to receive the assistance they need to catch up at home as I already struggle to understand the work which is sent home in Welsh only an he is only 5 - how will I be able to assist when he is 7 or 10?
I can not help but feel that this is one rule for Welsh speakers and another for the proud Welsh who do not speak the language for whatever reason? If a 1st language Welsh medium parent was told by their LEA that their children could not be taught through the WM they would be protected by the Welsh Language Act - where is my protection?
Again - I am not against WM education. I am just pro-choice for education through either EM or WM - after all in law each has equal standing - why is this not evident in our LEAs? Ceredigion is almost all Welsh and the old EM school in south Ceredigion has already told me that the 'significant' Welsh they use is greater than the English that is used! I do not protest for equal numbers of places or even establishments, just establishments which are accessible. I think I have already proved by my current travelling that I am willing to compromise and make sacrifices to achieve this, but I feel it wrong that we are in a situation whereby our only option may be to move our lives to get a basic education for our children in their 1st language? Would you accept this?

Anonymous said...

Well if you feel that strong about your children having a English education then it must be worth the drive to carmaethen on a daily basis??
If you were in Russia what language would you expect your kids to be taught???