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Claire Roberts - Engaging and supporting staff to integrate the Welsh language in further education

Claire RobertsI was fortunate to participate in a visit to the Basque country last year as part of a delegation led by Sgiliaith, funded by Erasmus+, and including a number of colleges and a Welsh Government official. There, we learnt a lot from an area that has succeeded to increase the number of speakers of the (minority) Basque language from 26.4% in 1991 to 36.4% 2011. The impressive models of multilingualism in education as well as a vocational education and training sector that delivers 26% of its provision through the medium of Basque are certainly innovative. Also of particular note was the economic value placed on the Basque language. According to a report in 2015, the Basque language contributed 4.2% to the GDP of the Basque Autonomous Community in the Basque country.

If such a link between a minority language and economic value were found also to hold true for Wales, I’m sure that would be welcome news to those 130,700 new speakers of Welsh identified in a recent joint report by the Welsh Government and the Welsh Language Commissioner.

According to Wales’ 14 FE colleges and institutions, 22% of their full time students can speak Welsh and the majority have some knowledge of Welsh. With 65% of the world’s population being at least bilingual, Wales, as an emerging bilingual nation, is beginning to catch up with the rest of the world.

The education sector clearly has an important role to play in normalising bilingualism, and here I consider how the further education sector can actively encourage and value the use of both languages. The question under consideration is: how does the post-16 sector support staff to ensure they are comfortable in making that active offer to students, encouraging learners to engage with Welsh and use Welsh language services on a daily basis and continue with their linguistic skills journey post-16?

Policy and legal context

Since the publication of the Welsh Government’s all-age Welsh Medium Education Strategy (WMES) in 2010 and the launch of ColegauCymru’s National Strategy on Bilingualism in FE the same year, colleges have redoubled their efforts to integrate bilingualism into operations. By 2013/14 colleges had already exceeded the target set by the Welsh Government for 2015. Welsh-medium or bilingual delivery had reached 8.5% in 2013/14 in the FE sector, up from a baseline of 6.2% in 2008/09 noted in the annual report on the WMES 2014/15. This area of development is crucial to ensure learner choice and a continuation of Welsh language skills learnt in compulsory education.

The Welsh language was given official status in the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011. It means that, in the provision of public services, the Welsh language should not be treated any less favorably than the English language. It paves the way for individuals to exercise a right to receive public services in Welsh.

The Measure will see new Welsh Language Standards introduced. The draft regulations have been issued for Group 1 and 2, with ColegauCymru part of Group 2. It allows for a period of consultation before a final compliance and imposition date in February2017. There has however been a delay in the agreement of Group 3 Welsh Language draft regulations, which cover further education colleges. It remains to be said that ColegauCymru and colleges are all fully committed to their Welsh Language Schemes.

To support colleges in preparing for the introduction of the Welsh Language Standards, ColegauCymru organised an interactive workshop in March 2016 that aimed to empower, inform and equip them with the tools to deal with the Standards.

Resources for staff and learners

Engaging with staff is a key part of ColegauCymru’s role and our suite of networks for curriculum managers, heads of departments and managers of college functions is an ideal way to share ideas and best practice across the sector and with wider audiences. The Bilingualism Network for FE that ColegauCymru and the Welsh Government jointly administer and fund is a collaborative way for cross sector sharing of ideas and finding solutions to challenges in terms of the promotion of bilingualism.

ColegauCymru signed an MoU with Sgiliaith in March 2016 that formalises the partnership in the work of promoting bilingualism. Sgiliaith is a Welsh Government funded body that provides expert advice for staff on bilingual teaching methodology and delivery in post-16 education.

In addition, as a result of close working with partners, ColegauCymru secured Welsh Government funding for four projects in 2015 that were specifically designed to support learners and staff in the FE sector to use their Welsh language skills. Two of the projects targeted staff in FE: a blended learning resource on awareness of the Welsh language, and an e-library for educators in the health, social care and childcare sector.

Blended learning resource on awareness of the Welsh language

Taking the view that it would be difficult to take staff on a journey of appreciating and using their Welsh language skills if they:

  1. didn’t understand the history of the Welsh language, and
  2. couldn’t see the relevance to life and learning,

we set about creating a language awareness pack. The resulting ‘Ein Hiaith / Our Language’  resource follows a blended-learning model that includes videos, an interactive quiz, and an option for staff to achieve accreditation for their learning. It contextualises the use of the Welsh language through history to the present day, with interviews from a diverse range of speakers and with a particular focus on the further education sector. We are delighted to hear that organisations outside the FE sector are also finding the pack useful.

Health and Social Care and Child Care e-library

Having heard from bilingual educators in the care sector that they were finding it difficult to source specialist resources through the medium of Welsh, another of the projects saw us design a bilingual website that brings together teaching resources for the health, social care and childcare sector. This directory of resources aims to be a one-stop shop, helping teachers, lecturers and learners of childcare and social care in further education colleges as well as the wider education sector and care providers.

Partnership working was key to the development of the resource. Members of the partnership included representation from the Care Council Wales, Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol, Mudiad Meithrin, and Welsh for Adults. Following staff feedback, we have also published on the website a document that outlines the Wales-specific legislation in the health, social care and childcare sector.

All these resources are openly accessible to all and free to use. Please take a look.

Next CPD steps

Ideally we would like to introduce libraries of resources for all the industry sectors which the Welsh Government has identified as key for bilingual development. Apart from the care sector, they are: Agriculture; Creative Industries; Leisure & Tourism; Business Services; Construction & Engineering.

We in the further education sector are most definitely on a journey and are committed to embedding bilingualism. There is, however, a long way to go to fully normalise bilingualism in the sector. Further commitment and support from the Welsh Government to enhance the embedding of Welsh needs to be a priority in order to support staff to continue to provide and develop more opportunities for learners to use their language skills.

Claire Roberts is Director of Bilingualism at ColegauCymru / CollegesWales.

Claire was appointed in 2013 as Director of Bilingualism at Colegau Cymru to lead on the implementation of the National Strategy on Bilingualism in Further Education Colleges. She works closely with the Bilingual Champions at the colleges as well as members of management teams of colleges by striving to develop Welsh medium and bilingual opportunities and to normalise the Welsh language in the post-16 education and training sector. Before her appointment to Colegau Cymru, Claire worked for the Welsh Language Board promotes bilingualism among businesses, after which she worked for the Welsh Language Commissioner.