THE NUMBER of pupils continuing with Welsh medium education in a Gwent borough is below a target set as part of an ambition for there to be one million speakers by 2050.
Every council in Wales have to have a Welsh in Education Strategic Plan, approved by the Welsh Government, to support the national target, with Torfaen’s 10-year programme having started in September last year.
According to the document, within five years 100 per cent of pupils in the borough’s Welsh medium primaries should continue on to secondary education through the language.
But the council’s review of the first year of the Welsh in education plan show in September 2021 that figure was just 103, from 122 pupils, in three primaries – 84 per cent.
That increased to 86 per cent the following September, with 88 of 102 total pupils in the three schools, moving on to secondary level.
Welsh medium provision in Torfaen increased in September 2022 after Welsh medium secondary Ysgol Gwynllyw, in Pontypool, re-opened as an “all-through” school for pupils aged three to 19. The report highlights that for Gwynllyw only one admission application will now be required for a child’s duration at the school.
By January this year there were 119 reception children across Torfaen’s four Welsh medium primary settings, out of total of 1,005 across all primary settings, which is 11.84 per cent. That means the borough is below its target of 16.3 per cent of reception pupils in Welsh medium by the five year point in 2027.
Andrew Powles, the council’s head of education, told the education scrutiny committee, it had noted a “dip” of pupils moving from Welsh medium primary to secondary but said: “That is something we’re keeping a close eye on and working closely with headteachers on.”
Labour councillor for Fairwater, Cllr Jayne Watkins asked whether, as the 2020 baseline figure of 96.3 per cent of primary pupils moving to Welsh medium secondary had been based on pre-pandemic figures, should the five and 10 year targets be adjusted.
But Mr Powles ruled that out. He said: “The targets won’t be adjusted and are agreed by Welsh Government as part of our 10 year plan.
He said: “Let’s not lower our aspirations,” adding: “We’ve got some really strong schools here and I see no reason or need to drop that target. I’m happy to keep it as it is.”
The council has three year grant funding to run a Welsh language emersion programme, for up to 12 pupils a term, called Carreg Lam at Ysgol Panteg that provides intensive support for pupils in school years two and six to transfer to Welsh medium.
The report also noted the percentage of pupils at Ysgol Gwynllyw transferring to the sixth form in 2020, 2021 and 2022 “shows an overall increasing trend”.
Numbers jumped from 29.19 per cent in 2020 to 40.87 the following year but dropped to 33.33 per cent in September 2022.
Challenges highlighted in the report include problems recruiting teachers and early years childcare staff who are able to work in Welsh, with science identified as a particular challenge.
Mr Powles said attracting teachers is a national issue, but Ysgol Panteg and Gwynllyw have developed their own approaches to addressing it. The primary has offered “gap year” opportunities for students or those thinking of switching careers to work in school while Gwynllyw has provided employed unqualified teachers and provided training. Former pupils are also invited to the school to share their experiences and promote career opportunities.
The committee was also told the plan aims to increase provision through Welsh for pupils with additional learning needs (ALN).
Gareth Edwards, the council’s head of additional needs, said figures show less demand in Welsh medium schools. He said a new Welsh medium school in Caerphilly, that opened last year, made provision for a specialist class but it wasn’t required due to a lack of demand in the Gwent region.
Mr Edwards said it is possible some parents whose first language is English may see Welsh as an “additional barrier” if their child has additional needs. That could mean parents not choosing Welsh medium or moving their children into English medium, the committee was told.
Mr Edwards said the council “doesn’t push” that message and its role is to “support families”.
The committee will recommend including a communication plan in the strategy to promote education through Welsh and the career opportunities, including teaching, and for support for pupils with additional learning needs to be considered.