Passion that saved Welsh called to rescue schools

2nd September 2011 at 01:00
Government adviser says fight to turn around ailing education system needs focus of Welsh language activists

The passion and ideology behind the successful campaign to save Welsh should be used to improve the country's ailing education system, according to a leading academic and Government adviser.

The drive to become a top-20 country in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) rankings in 2016 is as important as the fight to save the Welsh language, according to Professor David Reynolds.

Decades of campaigning helped rescue Welsh and transform it into a modern, working language spoken by around 20 per cent of the population.

Earlier this year, a statutory duty was placed on public bodies to provide services in Welsh.

Education needs the same focus if its fortunes are to be transformed, Professor Reynolds said.

"Education is our area of greatest failure since devolution. Welsh- language campaigners remembered a time when the language was the birthright of everybody.

"The fact that we did such a good job with the language produced huge self-esteem in the nation. So how did we achieve that and how can we apply it to education?"

Education must be considered by every Government ministry and department in everything they do, he said.

The Government's Welsh- language scheme, approved earlier this year, commits it to consider the language in all policy areas and across all departments.

"Like Welsh, every single policy has to be drafted not just in its own terms of housing or culture or economic development, but also in terms of its effect on educational achievement," said Professor Reynolds.

He added that, in the same way adult learners spearheaded the growth of Welsh and passed the passion on to their children, so adults should inspire children to love learning.

"It is crucial that parents get involved in schools in ways they haven't done so far.

"The Government should really think through what community- focused comprehensive schools should be doing to help their parents and bring them on board."

Parental demand has also been a key driving force in the rapid expansion of Welsh-medium education provision in recent years, and Professor Reynolds said such pressure would have a similar impact on improving school standards.

He also pointed to the way language campaigners learnt from overseas, including setting up a network of Welsh-language classes in the 1960s - known as wlpan - based on the successful Hebrew model in Israel.

"We must have an international reach and learn from good practice no matter where it comes from," he said.

"Whatever advice goes out through the school effectiveness framework must genuinely be the best in the world."

But Rebecca Williams, policy officer at Welsh-medium teaching union UCAC, said Professor Reynolds' analogy was "curious".

"The Welsh language campaign has been long and often divisive, and although the situation is much improved it is far from won. I wouldn't wish those sorts of circumstances on any other campaign."

Although Ms Williams said it was difficult to see comparisons, she agreed that parental support and joined-up thinking across Government policy areas was crucial to educational improvement.

Anna Brychan, director of heads' union NAHT Cymru, said some of the ideas were "intriguing".

"Certainly we would wholeheartedly support the notion that education is a matter for everybody and that every citizen has a stake in its success," she said.

"There has been a tendency in the past to think that schools can do it all alone.

"There is a tradition of determined, and successful, community action in Wales. Harnessing that to keep education at the heart of the way we do things and involving all our people in it is a worthy ambition."

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