THE capital of Wales and future home of its national assembly has announced plans to boost Welsh- medium education from the nursery to the sixth form.
In a programme seen as a model for the rest of Wales, Cardiff City Council is prepared to open four new Welsh-medium primary schools in the next five years to meet demand, which is growing at the rate of just over 6 per cent a year.
The city already intends to open a new Welsh-speaking primary, Ysgol Pwll Coch, next September, and wants to provide more bilingual nurseries and to increase Welsh-medium education in secondary schools.
Fewer than 20,000 - or 6.6 per cent - of Cardiff's residents are Welsh-speaking but the proportion of Welsh speakers among the 5 to 15 age group has virtually doubled over the past 20 years. This is partly because of the city's education policies, and partly because of the establishment of Welsh-speaking government and media services in Cardiff.
Launching the Welsh scheme, Peter Perkins, chairman of the education committee, said: "There is a growth in the Welsh language in all parts of the city, so the language can no longer be seen in Cardiff as something which is very middle-class." Much of the growing feeling of Welshness was due to the prospect of the assembly.
The first Welsh-medium primary opened in the city in 1949. Cardiff now has eight primary schools, two units and two secondary schools teaching through the medium of Welsh.
Nearly all schools in Wales now teach Welsh and one in five classes in the principality's primary schools is taught either mainly or solely in the language, according to new statistics from the Welsh Office. From next September, all pupils will have to study Welsh, either as a first or second language, from five to 16.
The curious feature about Welsh-medium schools is that many parents who send their children to them are not themselves Welsh speakers (three-quarters of the pupils in Cardiff's Welsh- medium schools come from non-Welsh-speaking homes).
A study by researchers at the University of Wales found that parents perceived Welsh-medium schools to have higher standards and better discipline than their English-speaking counterparts and that they wanted their children to have the advantages of growing up bilingual.
A recent report by David Reynolds, professor of education at Newcastle University, suggested that Welsh-medium schools performed better because they had greater clarity of purpose, more commitment from teachers, parents and pupils - and more effective teaching methods.