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Million Welsh speakers plan ambitious but lacks detail, says National Assembly committee

19/05/2017

​A plan for a million Welsh speakers in Wales by 2050 is ambitious but lacks clarity and detail, says a National Assembly for Wales committee.

The main concern of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee is that the Welsh Government’s strategy has not been fully thought through. Members were not convinced that necessary evidence on the likely scale of the additional resources and investment required to achieve its aim had been provided.

Read the full report (PDF, 672KB)

The Committee concluded that the ambition to double the number of Welsh speakers is a cultural policy, albeit one that will need to be delivered in large part through the education system. It therefore identified a clear risk that this may have a distortive effect on the delivery of educational priorities as the system is realigned to be able to deliver the language strategy.

“The committee fully supports the bold aim of the Welsh Government’s policy, and we set out to be constructive in considering the practicalities of how this radical policy can be successfully implemented,” said Bethan Jenkins AM, Chair of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communication Committee.

“It is clear from considering the evidence that success will require hard work, considerable additional resources and clear targets.  It will also need to be founded on the continuing support of the people of Wales, Welsh and non-Welsh speakers alike.”

One of the areas identified by the Committee as critical to the success of the Welsh language strategy is early years education. The Welsh Government stated that an additional 331 Welsh medium classes would be required to support the strategy. However, stakeholders questioned the figure and suggested more than 650 would be needed.

The Committee has recommended the Welsh Government respond to that figure, and that expanding Welsh-medium early years provision should be a priority area when considering additional funding.

The Welsh Government strategy also mentions moving schools along the ‘language continuum’. The Committee concluded that there was a danger of focusing too much on changing the language category of the school rather than improving the fluency of pupils in all schools.

Bethan Jenkins AM said:

“As seventy five percent of Welsh pupils attend English-medium schools the Committee does not feel that sufficient attention is being given to other possible ways of growing the number of Welsh speakers within the strategy.

“With improved outcomes, English-medium schools may be a rich source of the Welsh speakers of the future.  If this were the case, the Welsh Government needs to demonstrate how it intends to improve Welsh language education within English-medium schools.”

Finally, if the aim of a million ‘Welsh speakers’ is to be meaningful, the Committee concludes, this must mean more than just the ability to say a few phrases in Welsh.

It must mean understanding and holding conversations naturally on most everyday subjects. However, Members believe more work is needed on identifying an objective way of measuring progress that is widely accepted.

The Committee makes 23 recommendations in its report, including:

  • That the Government should publish its underlying assumptions about the increase in Welsh speakers it expects from its proposed interventions and consults further on detailed, outcome-focused, targets and milestones before adopting them for the new strategy;
  • That the final strategy should give due weight to the importance of nurturing language use in communities, in social life and in workplaces. This should be done alongside language acquisition through Welsh-medium education, early years education and improving the quality of Welsh language teaching in English-medium schools and Welsh language outcomes for pupils;
  • That expanding Welsh-medium early years provision should be a priority area when considering additional funding under the strategy.; and
  • That the final strategy includes a clear definition of what will count as a Welsh speaker in evaluating whether the strategy is successful in its aim of creating a million speakers.

The report will be considered and responded to by the Welsh Government.

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