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Classes in Welsh poised to spread

Adi Bloom on a controversial plan to change language of instruction

ENGLISH-speaking schools in Wales could soon have to teach PE, art, music and drama in Welsh.

A draft policy review report is to be put before the Welsh Assembly next week suggesting that Welsh becomes a language of instruction in English-speaking schools throughout the principality.

The assembly's education committee has recommended that Welsh, already compulsory to GCSE level, should also be used to teach designated subjects in English-medium primary and secondary schools.

Gareth Jones, who chairs the committee, said that the recommendation reflected concern that Welsh-language teaching was not being presented in a relevant manner for pupils.

He said. "We are very concerned that Welsh becomes the language of the school. If it is to thrive and survive, it has to become the language of the community."

Subjects such as PE and music, he believes, lend themselves to teaching in Welsh, because the language element of the lesson is not critical to academic success.

But David Davies, Conservative assembly member for Monmouthshire, said extending Welsh lessons would provoke resentment in his primarily English-speaking constituency.

"It's a lunatic idea," he said. "I would fight it all the way if they tried it in Monmouthshire. Instead of forcing Welsh on people, they should concentrate on those who want to learn it to a higher standard."

Schools in Monmouthshire, he added, resented the enforced channelling of precious funds into extended Welsh-language provision. Elsewhere, too, expansion would cause problems: Welsh-language and Welsh-medium teachers were notoriously difficult to recruit, and there was a substantial shortage.

But Rhys Williams, of the National Union of Teachers Cymru, said that the situation might improve. Many local authorities provided language courses for teachers who were not native Welsh speakers, and participants required a relaxed environment in which to practise their newly-acquired skills.

"Games or music lessons are a good place for teachers to try out Welsh ," he said. "The vocabulary of a games lesson is specialised and restricted, so it's easy to master."

Instruction in Welsh has already been adopted by a number of English-medium schools in predominantly Welsh-speaking areas. Penglais comprehensive in Aberystwyth, for example, hopes to offer 15 per cent of its curriculum in Welsh by 2004.

The education and lifelong learning committee's report will be discussed by the assembly's culture committee next Thursday.

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