Scrap short-course Welsh

12th October 2007 at 01:00
'Fundamental shortcomings' in second-language delivery alienate pupils, says Estyn

A damning report on delivery of statutory second-language Welsh at key stage 4 has led to calls for the GCSE short course to be scrapped.

It has also led to concerns that forcing pupils especially those of lower ability to take a compulsory exam in the subject is counter- productive.

Welsh inspectorate Estyn recommends that the shorter course, the equivalent of half a GCSE, is dropped by some schools following an investigation earlier this year.

Its verdict of "fundamental shortcomings" was made after it emerged that some schools visited by inspectors allocated just one hour per fortnight for the short course less then half the time recommended.

In its report, An Evaluation of the GCSE Welsh Second Language Short Course, inspectors said very few young people progress to become fluent speakers.

It said schools should ensure that pupils are offered opportunities to hear and practise using Welsh beyond lessons and the Assembly government should increase the number of specialist Welsh second-language teachers to meet demand.

Dr Phillip Dixon, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Cymru, said to expect children to progress to Welsh-language fluency would be completely unrealistic in the lesson time allocated. He questioned whether the coupling of learning a language with an exam was even necessary.

"Such a cramming mechanism is hardly good pedagogy so it's no wonder not many take up Welsh after completing the short-course GCSE."

Julia Burns, head of Welsh at St Illtyd's RC High School, went further, saying the introduction of compulsory Welsh was not working well and turning many pupils off the language.

"I think we are shooting ourselves in the foot if we want children to love the language. The time allocated is woefully inadequate."

"I am terribly afraid that what we have got now leaves children wanting no more, which is heartbreaking as a teacher. It's turning them off Welsh and it's really wrong."

Estyn was asked to look at KS4 Welsh because the number of pupils opting to take the full GCSE was in decline while there was a surge in the short course.

Inspectors claimed some schools were "guiding pupils" towards the short course. However, Welsh teachers whom TES Cymru spoke to were in support of axing it.

Lisa Williams, head of Welsh at Croesyceiliog Comprehensive School in Cwmbran, does not offer the short course because she says the full course is taken more seriously.

Alison Lloyd, head of Welsh at Chepstow, said that since introducing the short course in Year 10 only, this year had seen the lowest-ever uptake of full GCSE Welsh.

"Only 14 pupils of a cohort of 180 are taking the full course," she said. "I'd rather see everyone doing the full course. We'd rather teach the short course over two years but we are not given the right sort of curriculum time to do it justice.

"We need to give pupils more encouragement to learn Welsh as it's quite difficult in this area because it's fairly Anglicised."

Elaine Edwards, policy officer at Welsh-medium teaching union, UCAC, said: "The short course does not give Welsh the status it deserves and doesn't prepare pupils for the Welsh workplace."

On the amount of Welsh required, she said: "Ideally every day little and often. This is the best way to learn a language, one or two hours a week is just not enough."

Although the percentage of pupils achieving grades A-star to C has increased to 47 per cent in 2006, the results are poor compared with the full course where 69 per cent achieved good grades in the same year.

The Assembly government is now supporting a new pilot GCSE short and full course for Welsh at KS4. A spokesperson said: "We will work to secure more appropriate time allocations for Welsh second language at KS4 and a better basis for pupils to succeed."

Welsh exam board the WJEC said this week that it agrees with the Estyn recommendation that schools should be encouraged to use the full GCSE Welsh second-language specification.

The Assembly government's policy document Iaith Pawb details aims to increase the percentage of people able to speak Welsh by five per cent between 2001 and 2011.

It is a statutory requirement that all pupils are taught Welsh to the end of KS4, either as a first of second language.

Both the short and full course is assessed on a higher or lower tier.

On the higher tier, pupils can gain A-star to D and on the lower tier grades C to G only.

In a statement released by Estyn, Susan Lewis, chief inspector, said: "In too many schools the short course is being taught by non-specialist teachers who lack a thorough understanding of second-language teaching methods. If the short course were to be phased out for the full one, we would need a considerable increase in teachers."

Estyn also said schools in South-east Wales were more likely to have pupils on the short course.

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