Welsh-medium enrolment is rising, but questions remain about the effectiveness of assessment. Nicola Porter reports
More primary pupils are enrolling in Welsh-medium schools and being assessed as first-language speakers by teachers. But parents have a more pessimistic view of their children's Welsh-speaking abilities than teachers, while the proportion of key stage 3 pupils studying Welsh as a first language and being assessed in it has declined slightly, according to new Assembly government figures.
Concerns have been raised previously about secondary schools "playing the system" by switching first-language pupils to second-language assessments and tests (TES Cymru, December 2, 2005).
Assembly statistics published last month show the number of primary pupils in Welsh-medium schools rose by 1,700 to 52,792 in January 2005. In 20001, there were 49,422 pupils in 440 schools. There are now 455 Welsh-medium primaries.
And the proportion of end-of-key-stage assessments carried out in Welsh first language has risen over the past five years to a fifth at KS1 and 19 per cent at KS2.
In secondary schools, the percentage of pupils in Years 7 to 11 taught Welsh as a first language has risen from 13.7 per cent (25,225) in 199900 to 14.8 per cent (27,895) last year.
But the proportion of pupils given first-language assessments at 14 dropped slightly last year, while the percentage of Y9 pupils studying Welsh as a first language has also gone down a little - from 14.8 per cent in 2003 to 14.5 per cent last year.
Welsh has been compulsory for all pupils aged up to 16 since 1999.
The Assembly government claimed a rise in the number of young Welsh speakers over the past five years means plans for a truly bilingual Wales are on track. It wants 26 per cent of the population to be Welsh-speaking by 2011.
An Assembly government spokesperson said: "We are committed to a bilingual Wales, and the recent Welsh-in-schools statistics paint a good picture of improvement."
But the Welsh Language Board said more needs to be done to ensure pupil progress at primary level is carried into secondary.
And more Welsh-medium schools are needed, according to teacher unions, Plaid Cymru and language pressure groups, which also want to see Welsh spoken more out of the classroom.
Elaine Edwards, speaking on behalf of Welsh-medium education union UCAC, said Welsh spoken in English-medium schools must "come out of the classroom".
Rhys Williams, campaigns and media officer for the National Union of Teachers Cymru, said the Welsh language must have more street cred. "Welsh must not become an invisible language, used only by consenting adults in private," he added.
Tim Pearce, chair of rhAG, the parent's Welsh-medium pressure group, said the proportion of Welsh-language primary schools should be nearer 50 per cent than the current 29 per cent. He claimed Welsh taught in English-medium schools was well-intentioned but would have little effect without pupils speaking it outside the school gates.
Parents also do not believe their children are as fluent in Welsh as their teachers do. Government statistics have been based mainly on parents'
assessments since 2003. For example, in 2005 only 10.6 per cent of seven-year-olds were considered fluent Welsh speakers by parents - compared to 16.6 per cent in 2002, when headteachers made such judgements.
Plaid Cymru said the aim of bilingualism should be fluency - not just being able to string together a few sentences.
Welsh in schools 2004 and 2005, www.learning.wales.gov.uk