Lack of supply cover could curb plans to increase language activities, says youth organisation. Nicola Porter reports
The teachers' workforce agreement is a major threat to plans to increase the number of children speaking the language of heaven outside the classroom, according to a report from the Welsh language youth organisation, Efa Gruffudd Jones, chief executive of Urdd Gobaith Cymru (UGC), said that getting more youngsters to use Welsh during extra-curricular activities could prove difficult as a result of the workforce agreement's non-contact time guarantee. From September, all teachers are legally entitled to the equivalent of 10 per cent of the working week out of the classroom for planning, preparation and assessment.
UGC claims this will reduce attendance at future Urdd Eisteddfods, Welsh-language residential courses, and other sporting and arts events - because school budgets will not stretch to supply teacher cover.
This year's Urdd Eisteddfod - the largest youth festival in Europe, and the first to be held at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff - finished last weekend, with plans to return to the same venue in 2009.
Urdd Gobaith Cymru's three-year corporate plan for 2005-8 focuses on shaking the "old-fashioned" image of the Urdd Eisteddfod, and attracting more young people to become members of the youth group. It wants to "convince children that living a life through the medium of Welsh in Wales is exciting and challenging". Top of the agenda is increasing the participation of young Welsh speakers through social activities.
One of the main aims is to increase the number of children going on Welsh-language residential courses at UGC's centres in Llangranog, west Wales, and Glan-llyn, north Wales, by 10 per cent over the next year. But Ms Jones said the plan depended on the availability of teaching staff, which she believes will decrease as the workforce agreement comes into play.
Speaking about the residential language courses at UGC's dedicated centres, she said: "We have already had to cancel some of our courses because they cannot be filled due to a lack of teachers to accompany children.
"We anticipate this worsening when the workforce agreement comes into force. We see this as a threat to our plans to make Welsh the chosen language for young people out of the classroom."
UGC is undergoing a major change of image. The corporate plan acknowledges the need to "improve the image of Welsh so that more children and young people are eager to use it as a social language" - in the playground, as well as at youth clubs and rugby matches.
Surveys are to be conducted to "assess the influence of the Eisteddfod on children and young people's attitudes to the Welsh language".
The 12-15 age group, where there has been a drop in membership, is also being targeted through a text message listings service, teenage magazines, the internet and other gimmicks.
And non-Welsh speaking pupils and learners will be allowed to take part in Urdd activities. At present 35,000 children are members of the Urdd, with more than 30 per cent of those described as Welsh learners. The Urdd has 995 branches, three-quarters of which are school-based.
The corporate plan envisages increasing the number of young people taking part in the annual Eisteddfod to 15,000 and boosting visitor numbers by 10,000.
But it highlights lack of funding and parents' fears over child safety as obstacles to progress on these goals. During the 2005 Eisteddfod, Prys Edwards, honorary president of the Urdd, called for more money to be given to the youth movement by what he termed the "petty cash" quangos. He said funding allocated by the Welsh Language Board and the Arts Council for Wales amounted to just pound;1 for every Urdd member.
Organisers of Urdd 2005 have confirmed they will return to Cardiff Bay in four years, hailing the event a success. However, on the closing day, Urdd leaders hit out at the Millennium Centre for sidelining the Welsh language by not holding more shows in Welsh.