Is Welsh-medium education a pound;10m luxury?

Unions back political ambition to build bilingual nation but demand guarantee on funding

Darren Evans

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Schools have criticised a major plan to improve the teaching of the Welsh language, questioning whether it is worth the expense.

The Assembly government's historic Welsh-medium education strategy, which aims to create a bilingual Wales, was launched this week.

Education minister Leighton Andrews said it would strengthen the Welsh language and help to protect it for future generations.

But despite general support from the teaching profession, some have questioned whether the cost is justified when schools are struggling for funds.

Around pound;10 million has been earmarked to implement the strategy in 2010- 11.

Dr Philip Dixon, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Cymru, said while his union's members welcomed the strategy, they would be "watching carefully" as it progressed.

"We will want a copper-bottom guarantee that demand placed on schools is properly funded and that schools will not be expected to fund it from their own resources," he said.

Some heads and teachers in areas of the country where Welsh is not widely spoken are privately hostile to the strategy.

One head, who did not want to be named, told TES Cymru: "It's frustrating that while we are facing deficit budgets, staff redundancies and a lack of resources we are spending pound;10 million on this."

The strategy will get tough on local authorities who have been slow to address the growing parental demand for Welsh-medium education, forcing them to work more closely together to plan provision.

Schools, authorities and other providers will also be expected to plan strategically to improve linguistic progression so pupils can learn through Welsh from one phase of education to the next and remain fluent.

A major priority is improvement in the teaching of Welsh as a second language, which inspectorate Estyn has consistently rated as poor.

By 2020, the strategy expects 30 per cent of seven-year-olds to be taught through the medium of Welsh, compared with 21 per cent currently.

It also wants subjects for 16 to 19-year-olds delivered in schools and colleges and work-based learning taught in Welsh.

Mr Andrews said: "Our young people have the right to expect that they will be able to speak and use Welsh effectively after learning the subject for 11 years.

"We need increased numbers of practitioners for all phases of education and training, with high-quality Welsh-language skills and competence in teaching methodologies."

Original paper headline: Welsh-medium education: a pound;10m luxury schools can't afford?

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