In August 2016, at the national Eisteddfod, First Minister Carwyn Jones launched the ambitious strategy - 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050. The response to the proposal has sparked debate, but what is clear is that it represents a huge challenge ahead. Is it really possible to increase the numbers of Welsh speakers so significantly within a generation, and what does this mean for the education sector in Wales?
The new strategy identifies 6 strategic areas for development:
The education sector will play a vital role in driving this strategy forward, but in order to maximise the potential to increase the number of speakers within the workforce, it is important that the skills of the education workforce as a whole are considered and that both practitioners and leaders are effectively supported.
The Education Workforce Council holds comprehensive data on the education workforce, including Welsh language ability, and utilises this valuable resource to assist the Welsh Government with workforce planning. So what does the register of practitioners tell us about the current state-of-play, and what are the key factors that need to be considered when developing policy going forward?
Surprisingly, the number of Welsh speakers within the teaching workforce has remained very static, with negligible increases noted since 2007. Current data indicates that 33.3% of school teachers are able to speak Welsh (27.4% able to teach through the medium of Welsh), which suggests that previous policies and tactics employed to increase language skills have not made the desired strides forward. In terms of NQTs and headteachers, 34.6% and 41.4% respectively are able to speak Welsh (27.8% and 36.1% able to teach through the medium of Welsh).
Geographical trends are discernible regarding the proportion of teachers able to teach thought the medium of Welsh, with the lowest in the South East region of Wales (Blaenau Gwent 7%, Newport 8%, Monmouthshire 9%) in comparison to the highest in North and West Wales (Gwynedd 93%, Isle of Anglesey 90%, Ceredigion 80%). Such a vast disparity demonstrates the challenge that lies ahead. How can the appetite for learning Welsh be improved, and can, or should strategy be deployed to attain greater parity between regions? What will the future of Welsh be in a post-Brexit Britain, and how can we ensure that the language remains relevant in a changing political and business environment?
Effective workforce planning requires a sound starting block from which to measure progress, and this requires clarification from the outset as to what is defined as a ‘Welsh speaker’, since this is not always consistently applied across the various surveys which have been conducted in the past. Should we all adopt the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages1 to have a more standardised approach?
Whilst the register of practitioners provides us with an insight into the language abilities of teachers which can be effectively mapped over time, little is known at present in relation to the language skills profile of the newer registrant groups, i.e. Further Education practitioners and learning support workers, and developing trend data will take time. Initial insights from the Register, however, show that as at 1 March 2017, there were 31,500 registered school learning support staff. This constitutes a significant proportion of overall registrants with the number of learning support workers almost on a par with the number of practising teachers (33,000). Equally we know very little about the abilities of new groups who will be required to register from April 2017 (Youth Workers and Work-Based Learning practitioners). If education is seen to be one of the fundamental drivers of the policy, how can effective planning take place if we do not yet have a comprehensive overview of the workforce? This is further compounded by the fact that we know little about the non-maintained sector and early years, yet early years provision is seen as vitally important, and a key factor in developing skills from a young age.
It is recognised that education practitioners already have heavy workloads, and in tandem with competing needs for job-specific CPD, developing Welsh language skills within the existing workforce will invariably constitute a tall order. It may well be that there is an appetite within the sector to develop Welsh language skills, but there are already existing demands on both practitioners and leaders e.g. mandatory training, impending new curriculum, digital competency framework, impetus to increase research capacity within the workforce to name but a few, so how can we help to develop the Welsh language skills of those who currently have limited, or no experience of the language? How can this be best achieved so that learners still have consistency?
How can we ensure equality of opportunity and access for those in the education workforce who wish to learn Welsh or improve on their skills? There is undoubtedly a call for consistency across all sectors and a need for flexible, cost effective routes to learning in both formal and informal settings.
New entrants to the teaching profession – creating sustainability
We need to ensure that teacher training programmes are responsive. The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) have indicated that in terms of initial Teacher Education targets for 2017/18, mathematics and Welsh are in the priority subject group. Additionally, while the intake targets do not include separate Welsh medium targets, providers are being encouraged to develop and offer Welsh medium provision wherever possible in order to meet the demand for well-trained and qualified Welsh medium teachers in schools.
So what do the current ITT statistics tell us? Data from (2015-2016) show a small number of people (secondary trained) trained in Welsh. In secondary, there was an overall cohort of 464 students who passed within the academic year, of which 22 were in Welsh. The Welsh Government has taken deliberate steps over recent years to limit the number of ITT places due to an over-supply of teachers within the overall workforce, and strict entry requirements means that it is harder to embark upon a training programme. The data shows, however, that ITT training providers have failed to recruit their full allocation of trainee teachers in both 2015/16 and 2016/17. It will be important to ensure that a close eye is kept on the numbers of Welsh speaking new entrants, and those able to teach through the medium of Welsh to ensure long term sustainability. Should entry requirements for teacher training be revisited? Is the bar set at the right level, or are we potentially losing out on good teachers who do not meet the minimum criteria? Should more support be given to assist those who have the drive and ability to become teachers to get through these initial hurdles? Additionally, how will any move to devolve pay and conditions in Wales further impact upon recruiting and retaining teachers in Wales?
Whilst educators will play a key role in developing the Welsh language skills of learners, in order to produce confident, capable Welsh speakers, the learning needs to permeate through to life outside the classroom. Learning outside the classroom helps to reinforce language skills and grow confidence in using the language on a day to day basis. Learners need the opportunity to practice, but it is not all down to teaching practitioners as parents and carers also have a critical role to play. How can families be encouraged to support their children by improving their own Welsh language skills, and what will be done to support them? There needs to be accessible learning opportunities for all. Welsh for adults provision will need to be reviewed in addition to looking at how others who support children can contribute to the strategy – what about sports clubs, youth clubs for example?
Now that we have a broader remit in terms of registering additional sectors of the workforce, we will be better placed to utilise this unique and diverse dataset to further influence education policy in Wales. We will continue to respond to consultations and call for evidence requests in the interest of our registrants ensuring that policy makers understand the diverse nature of the education workforce in Wales.
The EWC has recently provided oral evidence to the National Assembly for Wales’ Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee in relation to this strategy. You can see us in action via Senedd TV archive.
Our ability to support education practitioners relies heavily on the accuracy of data with which we are supplied. You can help us by ensuring your record is up to date by visiting www.ewc.wales and log in via MyEWC
1 Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment (CEFR). http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/linguistic/Cadre1_en.asp