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Main route to one million Welsh speakers in danger of terminal decline, says Conservative

THE GOVERNMENT will never meet its ambition of a million Welsh speakers by 2050 if it fails to reverse the shrinking number of users after post-18 education.

Statistics released on Thursday show 305 fewer students were learning some of their degree through Welsh in 2019/20 than the previous year, continuing a steady decline that started in 2016. 

The figures also revealed that fewer than one-in-three fluent Welsh-speaking students (2,895 out of 9,860) were receiving some of their teaching in the language, while targets for students studying at least five and at least 40 credits through Welsh that same year were both missed.

Previous research has already found that use of Welsh peaks in the early teens – likely linked to educational settings – but drops off at school-leaving age with the proportion of speakers dropping by more than half. Therefore, maintaining use of Welsh after full-time education is essential to increase numbers.

Other significant findings relate to teacher training numbers as, of those who spoke Welsh fluently (285 out of 1,030 total entrants), 35% (100) were not even training to teach in Welsh.

Only 22% (225 out of 1,030) of students who completed an Initial Teaching Education (ITE) course were trained to teach through the medium of Welsh. The proportion is the same for both primary and secondary school trainee teachers.

The Welsh Labour Government’s Cymraeg 2050 strategy needs to nearly double the number of speakers in Wales in three decades’ time and attracting people who can teach bilingually will be key to ensuring significant capacity for Welsh medium education.

The 2011 Census states there were 562,000 speakers in Wales. Meanwhile, the Annual Population Survey that attempts to show trends in-between censuses, indicates 883,600 as of the end of 2020.

However, the Survey results should not be compared with census results, nor used to measure progress towards the target of a million Welsh speakers by 2050, according to the Welsh Government: “The Welsh language strategy Cymraeg 2050, clearly states that this target was based on census data and that progress towards this target will be monitored using future census data.”

Commenting, Welsh Conservative and Shadow Welsh Language Minister Samuel Kurtz MS, said:

“The million Welsh speakers by 2050 target was widely supported in the Senedd but it will remain a pipe-dream until people decide to keep using it widely after leaving education.

“The best way to do this is through carrots rather than sticks as people should, of course, converse in the language of their choice. It is up to this nation’s leaders to encourage use, post-education.

“It does not help that there is, at best, a mixed picture with students training to teach in Welsh – if we cannot get the capacity to teach the language on a larger scale and reach more people at a younger age, the Government cannot expect to increase numbers.

“Although the ultimate ambition is decades away, the path to it is littered with missed targets. I expect the Minister to provide answers as to how he intends to address this troubling pattern.”