Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Allowing parents in Llanegenech to choose

This column appeared in the Llanelli Herald on 16 December 2016

Next week Councillors on Carmarthenshire ruling Cabinet will make a decision about turning Llanegenech primary and infants into a Welsh medium school.

The Plaid-run Council say this is necessary to achieve the Welsh Government’s target of doubling the number of Welsh speakers by 2050.

The Welsh Government envisages schools moving along a ‘language continuum’ so that English-medium schools become dual-stream schools, and dual-stream schools become Welsh medium ones.  As a first step Carmarthenshire are putting the emphasis on converting all the dual-stream schools in the county into Welsh-medium schools.

Whilst doing this may make it easier to hit targets, it does nothing to address the quality of Welsh language education for the overwhelming majority of pupils in the County. The Council don’t seem to have plans for increasing the skills and capacity of English-medium schools to enable all children to have access to high quality Welsh language teaching.

Instead, I believe the Council should be placing the greatest emphasis on the other end of the language continuum.

In urban areas where there are a range of schools to choose from, the creation of new Welsh language provision extends choice. However, the conversion of a village school into a Welsh medium one prevents families from being able to choose how their children are educated, and risks creating social and cultural divisions.  

Llangennech has been a successful model of community cohesion where children from different language backgrounds have been educated side by side. Families who do not want a Welsh medium education for their children will be forced to travel outside the village. And the sense of community which has built up around the school risks being undermined; friendship groups will be disrupted, and child care arrangements will be complicated - these are all hard to measure but will all be affected by this change.

There are wider issues too. To walk to the nearest alternative school in Hendy, for example, would involve crossing a Motorway junction. This is clearly not practical and would therefore involve an additional car journey at a time of peak congestion - going directly against the sustainability and public health duties of the Council.

The debate over the future of the language has been marked by decades of consensus and goodwill about its growth. The handling of the issue in Llangennech has been insensitive and underlines the danger of not taking communities with us in our efforts to safeguard its future.

I would urge Councillors to think again

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