Policy straight from heaven

12th May 2006 at 01:00
There is a welcome in the classroom for the language of heaven at a secondary school nestling in the anglicised hills of the Rhondda valley.

The development of bilingualism at Treorchy comprehensive is "outstanding"

according to inspectors, who have given the English-medium school top grades for the language at both key stages 3 and 4.

The success of Treorchy's Welsh department contrasts with the more usual complaints emanating from schools in south-east Wales that second-language GCSE Welsh is too hard, pupils hate it, and fluent and effective teachers are hard to come by.

Staff at Treorchy say the biggest hindrance to their hard work and enthusiasm is that Welsh is not spoken outside the school gates.

Sian Llewelyn, head of Welsh, said: "This is something the Assembly government has got to address. Where are the children going to practise their new language skills if Welsh is not spoken in the community?"

Ms Llewelyn, who is leaving Treorchy in September to become a subject officer at the WJEC, the Welsh exams board, added: "We do well at GCSE, but I understand why other schools might struggle with the second-language paper if they have not targeted support at primary schools."

Estyn inspectors say a "fast-track" system at Treorchy, which kicks in before pupils even arrive at the secondary school, is creating a new generation of Welsh speakers in the former pit town. A Welsh specialist from the comprehensive teaches pupils in feeder primaries two years before they make the move to secondary.

Parents of pupils with a flair for the language are then asked permission for their children to learn Welsh, history and geography in fully bilingual classes. Not many parents refuse as they see it as a bonus for their children, according to Welsh-speaking head Bethan Guilfoyle.

Around 30 new pupils a year join two fast-track classes in Year 7, and usually sit their GCSE second-language Welsh 12 months early in Y10. In 2005, every student passed at grade B or above, and 61 per cent got an A*.

Ms Guilfoyle said: "Both pupils and staff are keen to learn Welsh to the best of their ability. Everyone sees it as a bonus, and learning is non-pressured and geared to children's ability."

She put the school's success down to excellent teaching, and the commitment of pupils and the wider community. The school's high standards mean it is now attracting pupils from Welsh-medium primaries.

Zoe Stone, 14, is to take her GCSE two years early. Jack Lawthom and Ashley Richards, both 16, are already 40 per cent of the way to completing their AS-exams.

Ashley said: "I've tried to get mum and dad to speak Welsh. My brother and I just start speaking in Welsh and they haven't a clue what we are saying."

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