Welsh squeezed into two weeks

2nd September 2005 at 01:00
Second-language moves 'against bilingualism'. Nicola Porter reports

Schools that plan to teach second-language Welsh over two-week crash courses are rejecting the spirit of bilingualism, it has been claimed.

Concerns about the new second-language GCSE syllabus have led to a backlash from Welsh teachers, who claim it is too hard and is putting pupils off the language. Some now plan to squeeze the short-course option into a year, or even as little as two weeks.

But inspection agency Estyn said such moves would go against Iaith Pawb, the Assembly government's policy for a bilingual Wales. Inspectors believe the 50 hours' teaching possible in two weeks would not be enough for pupils to meet the course requirements - but they will only investigate if schools' results decline.

Welsh is compulsory for all pupils up to age 16. Teachers claim the new second-language syllabus, examined for the first time this summer, is too demanding. Full-course entries were down almost 20 per cent this year, compensated for in part by a rise in short-course entries.

Fairwater high school, in Cwmbran, plans to run the short course over two weeks rather than the usual two years. Headteacher Stephen Cocks said:

"There is a huge issue with the short-course syllabus - I have not found a single school where it has been successful. We are going to teach it over two weeks, and I know many other schools think the same."

Sue Davies, head of Welsh at Fitzalan high school in Cardiff, said the syllabus was "killing the language", and it was unrealistic to expect short-course candidates to reach the same standards as those taking the full option.

Mal Davies, head of Willows high school in Cardiff, said Welsh-second language was just too daunting for pupils, especially in anglicised areas where Welsh was considered a "foreign language".

WJEC, the Welsh exam board, has acknowledged second-language entries are down due to "perceived difficulties" with the syllabus. Derec Stockley, director of exams, hinted changes could be made as early as 2006. But he said the short course, with a recommended 2.5 hours teaching a fortnight, was never intended to be a two-week "flash in the pan".

Gruff Hughes, acting general secretary of Welsh-medium teachers' union UCAC, said it was impossible for pupils to cover the short-course syllabus in just two weeks. Although agreeing the syllabus needed revision, he said:

"This is against the spirit of why Welsh was made compulsory."

ACCAC, the qualifications, curriculum and assessment authority for Wales, said it is up to schools how they manage their timetables as long as the course is completed. It expects to report on a consultation on the second-language syllabus in mid-October, and is reviewing responses from 115 teachers and school managers.

Chief executive John Valentine Williams said any changes to the syllabus would be "evidence based".

* nicola.porter@tes.co.uk

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