Welsh Immersion Education: Strategies and approaches to support 3 to 11-year-old learners.
This report is in response to a request for advice from the Welsh Government in the Education Minister’s annual remit letter to Estyn for 2021 to 2022.
The aim of this review was to gather evidence on effective language immersion methodology, incorporating foundation phase approaches in Welsh-medium settings and schools, and approaches for latecomers to Welsh-medium education. The purpose of which is to inform planning of Welsh immersion, including late immersion provision.
Summary of main findings
Leaders in non-maintained settings, Welsh-medium primary schools, bilingual schools, and language immersion centres prioritise immersion education effectively. They provide rich experiences for learners in an inclusive and Welsh learning environment. Most leaders in local authorities plan suitable strategies to enable practitioners to use early immersion methods as an integral part of foundation phase provision. Around half of the local authorities support latecomers into Welsh-medium education in language immersion centres. Provision for latecomers is inconsistent across Wales, and as a result, not all learners are given the same opportunities to access Welsh-medium education at an early enough stage.
Many local authorities provide suitable information about immersion education to parents/carers. Many local authorities have appropriate arrangements to self-evaluate and improve early immersion and late immersion provision. In a few authorities, processes for evaluating and setting improvement aims are unclear. Professional learning opportunities do not always have a consistent impact on improving provision to support learners to acquire Welsh language skills through the immersion process.
Nearly all practitioners support learners effectively by creating a supportive learning environment. Practitioners support learners to feel increasingly confident in trying to speak Welsh without fear of failure. Most practitioners nurture and develop learners’ listening and speaking skills as a core part of language immersion provision. A minority of practitioners do not introduce vocabulary and syntactical patterns purposefully enough to ensure continuity and progression. Many foundation phase practitioners develop learners’ early reading skills effectively by introducing letters and the corresponding sounds in a fun and multisensory way. Most practitioners who support latecomers plan beneficial activities for them to develop their reading skills, for example when learners read scripts.
Most practitioners provide beneficial writing activities as learners develop their skills. Practitioners develop learners’ oral skills successfully which, in turn, has a positive effect on their writing skills. The most effective late immersion provision is offered through intensive programmes. Practitioners nurture learners’ Welsh language skills in small groups for most of the time for an extended period. Most practitioners in language immersion centres provide highly successful immersion programmes that stimulate learners effectively. However, not all the resources that are used reflect and celebrate the diversity that exists in modern day Wales. Most learners are confident and proficient in their Welsh language skills at the end of the programmes.
Learning and attitudes to learning
Nearly all learners demonstrate positive attitudes to learning Welsh during the immersion education process. They take part in sessions enthusiastically and take pride in the progress they make in developing the confidence to speak Welsh. Most enjoy speaking Welsh inside and outside the classroom, become active speakers and succeed in applying their skills with increasing independence. Most learners in non-maintained settings and schools acquire Welsh language skills successfully through the early immersion process.
Most learners begin to speak Welsh with adults and peers with increasing confidence. They develop reading skills capably, and in turn they develop their writing skills appropriately. Most learners who complete intensive late immersion programmes attain a suitable level of proficiency to succeed in Welsh-medium education. Most learners in language immersion centres develop listening and speaking skills consistently well and make sound progress in their reading skills. Where support is provided to latecomers through alternative arrangements at school, a majority make appropriate progress.
Non-maintained settings and schools should:
R1 build on effective practice and plan a range of consistent activities that provide opportunities for learners to acquire vocabulary and syntactical patterns purposefully and coherently.
We welcome this recommendation for non-maintained setting and schools. It recognises the good practice seen across Wales and aligns with our expectations and aspirations for Welsh language immersion learning.
The curriculum for funded non-maintained nursery settings, which was published on 10 January, ensures that the mandatory elements of Curriculum for Wales are embedded within an effective and appropriate pedagogical framework that focuses on the needs of the developing child. The curriculum focuses on the key principles which are essential for holistic and meaningful learning; skilful, observant and interested adults, who provide authentic and engaging experiences in effective, exciting environments.
It recognises and values the Welsh language as an integral part of the unique culture of Wales, and as a language which should be taught in all settings in Wales. It also recognises that a provider of funded non-maintained nursery education has the discretion to decide that English should not form part of their curriculum to enable children to gain fluency in Welsh.
Mudiad Meithrin, Wales’ lead provider of Welsh-medium play and learning experiences for children from birth to school-age, has an invaluable contribution to make in introducing Welsh to children from an early age. On average, 90% of children that attend Cylchoedd Meithrin provision transfer to a Welsh-medium school. We already support the expansion of Mudiad Meithrin Welsh-medium childcare provision, and as part of that wider support, their tailored immersion scheme ‘Croesi’r Bont’ which Mudiad have developed to introduce Welsh language immersion approaches within Cylchoedd Meithrin. There are currently 102 provisions receiving support through the scheme, including some day nurseries.
For schools, the Curriculum for Wales will be the basis for learning and teaching in all primary schools, as well as for some year 7 learners, from September 2022. The Curriculum for Wales framework guidance aims to help each school develop its own curriculum, enabling their learners to develop towards the four purposes of the curriculum; the starting point and aspiration for every child and young person in Wales. The characteristics of the four purposes include learners communicating in Welsh and being knowledgeable about their culture, community, society and the world. Schools will be able to develop their own curriculum in a way which provides opportunities for learners to develop their Welsh in a purposeful, coherent and meaningful way.
Recommendations 2 to 4
Local authorities and regional consortia should:
R2 plan purposefully to ensure equal opportunities for all learners to access early and late immersion provision.
R3 evaluate immersion provision thoroughly, including tracking latecomers’ progress consistently over time.
R4 strengthen and ensure consistency in the professional learning offer on the principles and methods of immersion education for all practitioners.
We agree that all learners should have the opportunity to access early and late immersion provision and we are working in close partnership with local authorities and regional consortia to deliver on this collective aim.
New regulations setting out the Welsh Government’s expectation around the planning of Welsh medium education by local authorities came into force in 2020. The Welsh in Education Strategic Plans Regulations 2019 require local authorities to prepare a 10-year plan setting out how they will meet Welsh Government targets for growth in Welsh-medium provision, aligned with our Cymraeg 2050 targets. By the end of their 10-year plans we expect to see at least 30% of learners accessing Welsh-medium education.
All local authorities recently submitted their draft plans for approval following several months of preparation and consultation. We aim to have all plans operational by September 2022.
As part of those strategic plans, local authorities are required to set out their arrangements with regard to their provision for latecomers to Welsh medium education. As Estyn’s report outlines, the type of provision available to support learners accessing Welsh-medium education at a later entry point differs across Wales. In September, the Welsh Government committed £2.2m to enable local authorities to strengthen and expand their late immersion provision where they already existed as well as develop new provision for the first time.
Regional consortia and partnerships also receive funding to support professional learning which includes supporting immersion education. The Welsh Government is currently developing a 10-year plan for developing the Welsh and Welsh medium workforce, one of the priorities will be developing professional learning to support immersion education.
Research undertaken and published by the Welsh Government suggests that a possible area for consideration is how a more focussed approach to evidence and evaluation could lead to a more informed understanding of the effectiveness of late immersion provision. Another consideration for the future identified by the research is the tracking of progress of learners receiving late immersion provision in the context of new curriculum and assessment arrangements.
Recommendations 5 to 6
The Welsh Government should:
Recommendation 5: Develop national guidelines on early immersion and late immersion, and commission a range of suitable resources for learners of all ages to support immersion education that celebrate the diversity of Wales.
Recommendation 6: Establish a national forum to promote the most effective immersion education practices, including promoting local arrangements to introduce vocabulary and syntactical patterns.
The Welsh Government welcome these recommendations. We agree that there is a need to develop more resources, provision and partnerships to support effective immersion education.
The Welsh Government commissions Welsh and bilingual resources to support the teaching and learning of the curriculum and its qualifications across all ages and abilities. Discussions have been held recently with practitioners regarding immersion education resources and some needs have been identified and agreed. We will involve practitioners in identifying further needs and will ensure provision is age appropriate and reflects the true depth of our diverse cultural heritage. We are also currently scoping the development of a self-evaluation tool for the delivery of Welsh in education, supported by relevant case studies. Any such tool will align with the National Resource: Evaluation and Improvement.
In our Cymraeg 2050 Work Programme for 2021-26 we commit to establishing a network to support immersion education through the medium of Welsh, based on research and evidence. With all local authorities now investing Welsh Government funding in their late immersion provisions and establishing new provision across Wales, there has never been a better time for us to build on that momentum and support our partners across the education system as we move forward. To support this work, the Welsh Government plans to continue building on the evidence base relating to immersion education in Wales. This will include adding to our understanding of effective approaches and methods in immersion education.
We also recently launched The National Network Conversations, to support schools and settings on Curriculum Reform, with conversations taking place at a national, regional and local setting. The model of National Network Conversations is to support schools and settings to make the new curriculum work.