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Language survey seeks pupil views

Sixth-formers will say how they feel about bilingual plans. Nicola Porter reports

Sixth-form pupils are being asked how they feel about radical moves to make Wales truly bilingual, from the classroom to the workplace. Academics hope the survey of 2,000 post-16 pupils will help them decide how far Welsh universities should go in offering lectures in both Welsh and English.

An academic team, funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, wants to know how deeply the language has already penetrated schools, and how second-language pupils feel about it. It plans to increase its consultation to younger pupils in the new school year.

Ioan Matthews, heading the research for the Welsh-medium teaching and development centre, said: "The survey is all about looking at the perceptions of pupils, and the potential demand for bilingual lectures.

"We all know that more jobs in Wales, and certainly in the public sector, are coming with a must-have-Welsh advert, but the introduction of bilingual degree courses does come with difficulties."

A working group has already been set up, and sixth-form pupils will be able to discuss Welsh-medium options at higher education fairs Wales-wide.

This research coincides with the publication of the second annual report of the Assembly government's Iaith Pawb strategy. The ambitious paper, which sets the goal of a truly bilingual Wales, outlines progress of the infiltration of the Welsh language into all spheres of society.

It is now compulsory for every pupil in Wales up to the age of 16, including pre-school children in English-medium nurseries, to learn Welsh.

But academics also acknowledge a drop-off from GCSE to A-level, weakening calls for costly moves towards bilingual degree courses. As part of a commitment to increasing the number of young Welsh speakers, pound;580,000 has been pumped into producing free Welsh-medium classroom materials for primary schools over the past year.

In primaries, a scheme to place Welsh-language children's books which had gone out of print back in libraries is also up and running. Pupils are now encouraged to speak Welsh in the corridors, during assemblies and in lunch hours as part their daily lives.

The largest proportion of Welsh speakers is now in the five-to-15 age range, and non-Welsh teaching staff have been offered three-month sabbaticals to improve their language skills.

The Welsh Assembly doubled training targets for Welsh-medium early-years practitioners between 2004-5.

Teachers who have not trained in Wales will also be expected to learn basic Welsh words and the ethos of the Wales-specific Y Cwricwlwm Cymreig when taking up a new post in a Welsh school. Parents who move to Wales are also being encouraged to learn about Welsh heritage and to take Welsh lessons, in a bid to create more second-language Welsh speakers.

Speaking about progress made in implementing Iaith Pawb, Alan Pugh, Assembly minister for culture, Welsh language and sport, said: "We are investing in education from early years right through to higher education and adult learning, giving far more people the opportunity to learn a little, or to improve fluency."

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