MORE than 750 teaching staff in Carmarthenshire have expressed an interest in Welsh language training as the county develops its bilingual learning approach.
The council is keen to move schools along what is often termed a “language continuum”, guided by an overarching Welsh in Education Strategic Plan (WESP).
The current plan will be replaced by a new 10-year one in 2022, but only after a public consultation later this year.
It is expected to result in more three to five-year-olds learning in Welsh, more pupils studying for qualifications in Welsh as a subject and also learning other subjects in Welsh, and a rise in the number of teachers able to teach Welsh and other subjects in the language.
It will coincide with the implementation of the new school curriculum for three to 16-year-olds in 2022, which makes Welsh learning mandatory from the age of three, and English mandatory from the age of seven.
Cllr Glynog Davies, executive board member for education and children, told a council scrutiny committee that the authority’s aspiration was for pupils to be “completely bilingual” when they left school.
“There is no turning of the clock back,” he said.
Committee members were keen that school governors, staff and parents were fully aware of any changes proposed for their school in due course, and that the consultation on the new 10-year WESP was effective and well-documented.
Questions were also asked about the support on offer for teachers who needed to learn Welsh or brush up on their language skills.
During the coronavirus lockdown 90 secondary school staff in Carmarthenshire registered on Welsh language courses, with 72 completing them.
Cllr Edward Thomas said he felt support for English medium schools in particular during a language transition was crucial.
Aeron Rees, Carmarthenshire’s head of curriculum and well-being, said discussions would take place with English medium schools to prepare for the new WESP and curriculum, following a foundation phase language audit which has taken place.
This audit revealed that 758 expressions of interest had been made by teaching staff to enrol on Welsh language courses.
Mr Rees said the council offered staff “every opportunity to improve at any level”, but that some sort of prioritisation list would have to be drawn up such was the demand.
Concerns have been raised by some teaching staff who don’t speak Welsh about their jobs, but Mr Rees said they shouldn’t be worried.
“We are not using WESP and redundancies in the same sentence,” he said.
Cllr Gary Jones asked if a half-English, half-Welsh learning model could be implemented at foundation phase in English medium schools, or if such a measure would conflict with national policy.
Mr Rees said this was something that could be explored, but that the immersion in Welsh approach was a “strong one”.
There was also discussion about the definition of Welsh medium and English medium education.
Gareth Morgans, director of education and children’s services, said he didn’t like the term Welsh medium as learners developed English skills as well.
Cllr Dorian Williams echoed this point, saying Welsh medium schools were not production lines churning out “monoglot Welsh speakers who are only well-versed in Welsh”. Pupils, he said, left as bilingual or even multi-lingual.
And Cllr Davies said many English medium schools already had a strong Welsh ethos and were enthusiastic about introducing the Welsh language.
Mr Rees said: “Many of our English schools, they are very Welsh.”
The council’s new WESP is expected to be drafted before the summer and will need to be approved by the executive board and full council.
Addressing the committee, Cllr Davies said: “My hope is to bring the Carmarthenshire (WESP) plan to you soon.”