Huw Lewis, Minister for Education and Skills
The education system has a vitally important role in securing the future of the Welsh language. As a government we remain committed to seeing the Welsh-medium education sector grow as outlined in our Welsh-medium education strategy.
However, we recognise that there is also a need to address a range of significant challenges in the teaching and learning of Welsh as a second language in Wales.
We know that far too many young people are leaving schools without the effective Welsh language skills they need for the world of work, life and study, despite studying Welsh as a second language for many years.
We are about to embark on an exciting and radical programme of curriculum reform and I will provide Members with further information on how we will take this work forward later this month.
Before we publish our plan, I would like to provide a further update to Members on how we are taking forward recommendations from Professor Sioned Davies’ report on Welsh Second Language, One language for all, which considered how to address poor standards and low attainment in the subject.
Initially, I updated members in May last year and committed to a further report on progress regarding the remaining actions once Professor Graham Donaldson’s Independent Review of Curriculum and Assessment Arrangements in Wales report - Successful Futures, was published. I am happy to do so now.
Successful Futures makes ten recommendations in relation to Welsh language in the curriculum across the 3 – 16 age range, covering all current key stages and phases. These respond directly to the key recommendations made by Professor Davies.
I have accepted all of these recommendations, including that Welsh will remain compulsory in all schools up to the age of 16. As Professor Donaldson outlined in his report ‘The cultural, cognitive and practical benefits of learning Welsh as a living language provide a strong case for its inclusion as a compulsory element in the school curriculum’.
In the new curriculum, traditional subjects will be structured under six Areas of Learning and Experience. The new curriculum will see the introduction of a Languages, Literacy and Communications Area of Learning and Experience which will contain clear and distinct progression reference points and achievement outcomes for developing Welsh language skills over time. Learners in all schools and settings will be able to receive acknowledgement for skills gained – put simply a meaningful continuum of learning from 3-16 for each child and young person.
Furthermore, each of the six Areas of Learning and Experience should include, where appropriate, both a Welsh dimension and an international perspective in line with the recommendations of Professor Davies and the independent review of Cwricwlwm Cymreig, history and the story of Wales.
There will be a renewed focus on learning Welsh primarily as a means of communication, particularly oral communication and understanding.
In taking forward these recommendations we intend to enhance the value attached to the Welsh language by strengthening the focus on its commercial value for the jobs market, the suggested cognitive benefits of bilingualism and its importance in enabling children and young people to have a good understanding of the cultural life of Wales in the past and the present, a specific recommendation in Sioned Davies’ report.
The work on developing a new curriculum will be taken forward by our Pioneer schools network, supported by Welsh and international experts. They will be key in developing the new curriculum framework. Progression reference points, achievement outcomes and transactional competence will be defined as we develop the new Languages, Literacy and Communications Area of Learning and Experience with the Pioneer network.
Let me be clear, I want all children and young people in Wales to have an opportunity to successfully learn Welsh. I also want children and young people to see speaking Welsh, and other languages, as an attractive and worthwhile option.
A number of innovative projects are running to improve the teaching and learning of Welsh in English-medium schools in the current curriculum, and this will inform the work of the Pioneer schools network.
For example, two clusters of English-medium primary schools have been working on a project to increase the use of Welsh across the curriculum at Key Stage 2, in line with the programme for government commitment. The Urdd has also been working with English-medium secondary schools to establish and maintain informal activities through the medium of Welsh and to increase the use of Welsh beyond the classroom. Both have been evaluated and the reports will be published in due course.
I launched Global Futures, our strategic plan for Modern Foreign Languages, on 7 October. Those schools are already beginning work and I have asked the Global Futures Steering Group to examine and advise on the delivery of bilingual plus one in schools.
However, there is no quick fix. As well as developing a new curriculum that will raise the bar for the teaching and learning of Welsh in schools, we also need to equip our teaching profession with better skills.
In the short-term, there are a number of actions that will be taken forward either in accordance with the Welsh-medium Education Strategy, through the implementation of Successful Futures, or through the New Deal for the Education Workforce and Professor Furlong’s review of teacher education.
We will also:
- continue to strengthen school-to-school support through the regional consortia and in partnership with other stakeholders with the requisite expertise.
- continue to deliver intensive Welsh-language training to practitioners through the Sabbatical Scheme.
- work with Estyn and the regional consortia to identify best practice in the teaching and learning of Welsh second language and determine how schools are performing at key stages 2 and 3.
- work with the Education Workforce Council to determine the Welsh-language skills of the current workforce.
- promote Welsh as a subject and as a skill for the workplace.
In support of the wider work being undertaken to strengthen acquisition of the Welsh language I have asked Qualifications Wales, our new independent qualifications body to consider the current range of Welsh second language qualifications and advise on how these could change.
I would like to express my gratitude to the many colleagues and stakeholders who contributed to the work of the Welsh Second Language review group. I am particularly grateful to the members of the group and most sincerely to Professor Sioned Davies who chaired the group for their contributions and comprehensive report, which has been invaluable in developing thinking in this key area.