7. Statement by the Minister for Education and Welsh Language: Welsh in Education Planning

– in the Senedd at 5:15 pm on 31 January 2023.

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Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 5:15, 31 January 2023


The next item is the statement by the Minister for Education and Welsh Language on Welsh in education planning, and I call on the Minister to make the statement—Jeremy Miles.

Photo of Jeremy Miles Jeremy Miles Labour


Thank you, Llywydd, and it's my pleasure to be here today to update Members on our progress regarding Welsh in education planning.

Since my last statement, I’m pleased to say that all 10-year Welsh in education strategic plans by local authorities have been approved and published and are operational. Not only that, I've received 22 action plans, setting out in detail how local authorities will deliver their WESPs during the first five years. I’d like to thank everyone at local authority and stakeholder level for their continued support and their involvement in this agenda. It demonstrates to me a real commitment and understanding of the need to keep moving forward, together, with a clear vision.

And delivering on their commitments is exactly what they intend to do. This is a clear message from council leaders and directors of education during our meetings to discuss their WESPs last term. We all know that education and language planning aren't easy, particularly as the starting point of each local authority is different. We need to continue, therefore, to work together to make sure that the decisions that we make and the actions that we take bring us closer to our 'Cymraeg 2050' ambition, namely a million Welsh speakers. For my part, I intend to make sure that the guidance issued to local authorities reflects our 'Cymraeg 2050' commitments. New guidance has already been issued around the capital grants for sustainable communities for learning and the WESPs, so that investment plans are assessed against the WESPs to ensure that they provide the capability to meet the targets. We also intend to review the school organisation code, with work already under way to identify which changes are needed.  

I was pleased to be able to allocate a further £7 million in capital funding during the autumn term to support our WESP commitments of local authorities. This is on top of the £105 million approved since 2018. The £6.6 million to expand late immersion provision across Wales over this Senedd term is gaining momentum, with all bids by local authorities operational since September. The funding will allow local authorities to employ more than 60 late immersion specialists over the coming years. For example, in the Vale of Glamorgan, they have been able to open their first late immersion unit in Ysgol Gwaun y Nant through the use of this grant. We’re also supporting the virtual immersion learning programme in Gwynedd, using VR technology, a resource that will benefit the whole of Wales.

We launched our network to support Welsh language immersion in December last year, bringing local authorities, schools and late immersion specialists together to ensure developments in late immersion practices are based on knowledge and research. I'm very proud of what we've achieved in this area. Our late immersion provision is unique to us in Wales, and the potential for us to go even further is clear to see.

We can't, however, ignore the census results on the Welsh language, published on 6 December. The figures relating to three to 15-year olds were disappointing, as we know that there are more learners in Welsh-medium education today than there were 10 years ago—over 11,000 more. As I said in my statement on the Welsh language census results on 24 January, the Welsh Government remains absolutely committed to our aim of a million Welsh speakers and doubling the number of us who use Welsh every day by 2050.

Maintaining a better understanding of the data is a key part of Welsh in education planning. A local Welsh language data profile was provided to local authorities during the preparation of their WESPs, which will be updated annually. I will also publish a national overview based on review reports on the WESPs.

Since publishing our 10-year education workforce plan in May 2022, we’ve also been working with some local authorities to develop a consistent method of analysing data collected by schools and local authorities. This will enable a more detailed understanding of how many additional teachers are required to deliver local authority plans to increase the number of learners in Welsh-medium education, and it will also enable stakeholders to better target our support for all practitioners to develop their own Welsh language skills.

We want to ensure that all learners in all schools have the best opportunity to become confident Welsh speakers. We've committed to establishing and implementing a continuum of Welsh language learning so that learners, teachers, parents and employers have a shared understanding of the journey to learn Welsh and the expected linguistic outcomes on each stage of that journey. A crucial aspect of this work will be to ensure that the continuum can be used both within the statutory education system in support of the Curriculum for Wales as well as in post-16 and adult learning. We have been exploring with stakeholders opportunities to use the common European framework of reference for languages, CEFR, as a basis for developing a Welsh language continuum. Embedding the continuum will take time, but I’m committed to ensuring that the opportunity to learn Welsh is available to all.

We’ll continue to work across all schools and settings to ensure that the way in which we teach Welsh is innovative and is supported by professional learning and resources. We must refocus our efforts in the English-medium sector. I applaud the hard work that's going on in schools, and I know that there is appetite and enthusiasm among Welsh teachers to take advantage of the opportunities afforded within the Curriculum for Wales. We've already published the framework for the Welsh language in English-medium education, and the free Welsh lessons delivered through the National Centre for Learning Welsh for learners aged 16 to 25 and also for the education workforce is a great example of the collaborative work going on with our partners.

Since September, we've funded the centre and Say Something in Welsh to develop an app to reinforce the Welsh language skills of learners and develop their confidence. Developments such as these have the potential to increase the use of Welsh in all of our schools. We intend to roll out this pilot to 10 other English-medium schools, and the planning for that starts immediately. We will also develop more resources to ensure that our Welsh language learners are well supported to become confident, proud speakers. Of course, one size will not fit all, and we must continue to find a suite of different interventions to support all learners, wherever they are on their language journey.

These are all small but significant steps, which we need to celebrate. Cymraeg, Welsh, belongs to us all, and I am confident that, in partnership, we can deliver.

Photo of Samuel Kurtz Samuel Kurtz Conservative 5:24, 31 January 2023


I'm grateful to the Minister for giving me sight of the statement beforehand this afternoon.

I think we all acknowledge that we do need to develop an integrated strategy and policy for the delivery of 'Cymraeg 2050' that will see the Welsh Government collaborating with local authorities, and vice versa, rather than working in silos separately. Although I have no objection to what the WESPs hope to achieve, I do have some concerns as to how the Welsh Government and local authorities are working to provide their WESPs in education. The Minister will be aware that I raised some concerns about the current inability to scrutinise local authorities and the implementation of their WESPs.

As I've said in this Chamber previously, if 'Cymraeg 2050' is to be delivered, then every policy maker here or in county halls across Wales must be accountable on delivering for the Welsh language. Very importantly, there is a role that the Welsh Government must play in ensuring that every local authority delivers the WESP that they have pledged. Now, practically, this is not currently the case.

Photo of Samuel Kurtz Samuel Kurtz Conservative 5:25, 31 January 2023

As has been established, Welsh in education strategic plans are a Welsh Government mechanism in place to ensure that all 22 local authorities are taking decisions in the interests of the Welsh Government's own objectives and targets, in this case, 'Cymraeg 2050'. Local authorities submit their WESPs to Welsh Government, who decide if they are satisfactory or not. Once deemed satisfactory, the local authority then implements that WESP. But should they fail to deliver the WESP, then Welsh Government posses no ability to intervene and direct that authority in the right direction. Because of this, what hopes do the Welsh Government have of achieving 'Cymraeg 2050' if WESPs are seen, sometimes, as a box-ticking exercise by local authorities, with no obligation to deliver upon them?

I appreciate, Minister, that you intend to bring forward a Welsh language Act and are having active discussions with Plaid Cymru as part of the co-operation agreement, but the current relationship between Welsh Government, its policies and local authorities is not producing the results we all want to see. Whilst local authorities are coming up with WESPs, there's no way for Welsh Government to ensure that WESP journey is completed.

When we make targets such as 'Cymraeg 2050' and policies such as WESPs, we have to ensure that local authorities, further education colleges, early years learning and third sector organisations all fit within a whole pathway of support and consultation. In part, this is already somewhat being done. The coleg Cymraeg is already working on ensuring that further and higher education provision is being provided through the medium of Welsh within specific and targeted sectors. But this isn't captured within local authorities' Welsh in education strategic plans because the coleg Cymraeg only provide oversight for the whole post-16 provision. As a result of this, will the Minister reassess the WESP framework to ensure that it encapsulates all 22 local authorities' entire Welsh language provision, including all sectors of education?

Photo of Samuel Kurtz Samuel Kurtz Conservative 5:27, 31 January 2023


Minister, it appears that I am rehearsing this point in all statements on the Welsh language. I share your ambition for our language. I want to see it prosper across Wales, be that in the classroom, on the high street, or at the office desk. But, to do this, we must bring everyone with us on this shared journey, and we can do that by developing policies that see that all levels of government, the third sector and education work together as one. We need to ensure that Welsh Government policies reflect this. Thank you.

Photo of Jeremy Miles Jeremy Miles Labour


Well, I agree that the Member does repeat this. It's a lazy narrative, and there's no evidence supporting what he said today about the performance of local authorities. We have new WESPs since September only, and there's not one sentence of evidence suggesting that local authorities are falling behind on their obligations. My experience of discussing this with leaders is very encouraging. I've said several times, in response to what the Member has said in the past, that I insist that councils are accountable for what they do in their WESPs, and we'll do everything we can to ensure that that happens. But I've also said, in the conversations that I've had with the councils, one-on-one with the leaders, that the commitment of leaders is clear to the WESPs, and so that's to be welcomed and it's very encouraging.

In terms of scrutiny, the Member is wrong about this. We have a scrutiny system for the WESPs. I said in my statement that five-year plans have already been published, which show the progress that they intend to make over the next five years. There will be annual monitoring. A monitoring framework has been developed, which builds on the assessment framework. We have regulations in 2019 that make it a requirement for authorities to report on their progress annually. Those documents will be public documents. I said in my statement that I intend to publish an overview of the progress against the WESPs. So, this narrative—there's no basis for it. We have a plan, we have a strategy, and we have action plans. We're working through them. There are requirements on local authorities. Our function as a Government is to ensure that they keep what they commit to do in sight and deliver on that. And if the Member wants to look with us at ways of strengthening the powers of the Welsh Government to do that through legislation, I'd welcome his support for the Bill.

Photo of Heledd Fychan Heledd Fychan Plaid Cymru 5:29, 31 January 2023


Thank you, Minister, for the update and for the opportunity to see the statement in advance. I particularly welcome the fact that the Minister has stated his commitment to ensuring that all learners in all schools have the best possible opportunity to be confident Welsh speakers. This is an important principle, and takes us further than the commitment in the 'Cymraeg 2050' strategy, which states that the Government's aim is to ensure that at least 70 per cent of all learners develop Welsh language skills and are able to use the language confidently in all aspects of their lives by the time they leave school. I certainly welcome this change, and I'm of the view that if we are serious about ensuring that the Welsh language belongs to us all, then all learners must be supported to learn the language in every school in Wales.

This is a significant change, and what I would like to ask, Minister, is: how is this principle supported by the WESPs? After all, evidence from the Basque Country shows that immersion, and receiving education through the medium of the Basque language, is undoubtedly the most effective way of ensuring that learners become confident Basque speakers. If you don't support this principle, what methodology would you recommend for ensuring that all pupils in Wales develop confident bilingual skills?

You refer in your statement to the steps that have been taken to support immersion education, and without doubt, this is to be welcomed. We've all seen incredible things on the news of people becoming entirely fluent in no time at all. But in most cases, if not in all cases, the intention of immersion education is to support learners who want to attend Welsh-medium schools, and there are few opportunities for learners in other schools to take advantage of such schemes. We know that immersion works—we've seen that. You and I have met people who've been through that system. So, with the commitment to ensure that all learners will have the best possible opportunity to be confident Welsh speakers, what plans does the Government have to expand opportunities for immersion and increase the use of learning through the medium of Welsh in every school? Isn't this the only way to ensure that we reach our goal?

Clearly, one thing that is an obstacle to all of this is the workforce—you refer to that in your statement—and specifically that we don't have enough teachers who can work through the medium of Welsh to meet the requirements of the WESPs as they are currently. With a number of teachers on strike tomorrow, and many telling us that they are leaving the profession or considering doing so, how concerned are you that we don't have the workforce in place to reach the current goals, specifically in terms of learning Welsh, learning through the medium of Welsh, and also in terms of additional learning needs?

I'm pleased to see reference to the co-operation agreement in your statement, and specifically in terms of the free Welsh lessons for learners between the ages of 16 and 25, and also those in the education workforce. Can I ask how many people have taken advantage of these lessons since the schemes were launched? Are you seeing that people have the time to take up these opportunities?

Finally, as has been mentioned, one of the major challenge with the WESPs so far is the issue of accountability. I accept the point that you've been given a commitment by leaders in all local authorities, and that's to be warmly welcomed. Clearly, there was some discussion between you and the local authorities in terms of the WESPs, with many having to return to them. But in terms of that issue of accountability, in the the past we have seen some local authorities not delivering the objectives that they had set for themselves, and not always providing explanations for that. So, although I welcome that there is a commitment that they will do better, possibly, in those authorities, how can we ensure that accountability? And therefore how important will it be to ensure that the Welsh language education Bill will strengthen the Government's ability to ensure that education plans are implemented in a way that supports the ambition of seeing all children becoming confident Welsh speakers?

Photo of Jeremy Miles Jeremy Miles Labour 5:34, 31 January 2023


I thank the Member for welcoming the statement. I agree with several points that she made in her question. In terms of the investment in immersion, we do have ambitious plans in that regard. We have a budget of just under £7 million for the period between now and the end of this Senedd term to invest in late immersion. What's great—. I gave an example in my statement of a new school in the Vale of Glamorgan that has established a late immersion unit. All authorities are at different places in terms of immersion, of course, but all of them have shown an interest in expanding provision across Wales, so I think that that's very encouraging. And the budget is available over several years, so there is an opportunity to expand that even further. I think I mentioned last week that I was interviewed by a six-year-old pupil who had been in an immersion centre since September. She came from England, of Mexican heritage—her family was from Mexico—and she interviewed me in Welsh. And the whole thing was very striking. So, investing in immersion is very important. But, as you've said, the purpose of that, ultimately, is to secure access to Welsh-medium education, on the whole.

So, the other aim is to ensure that people leave education of any medium in Wales as confident speakers. That's very ambitious, but that concept is very important in terms of unifying the education system, I think, so that we don't have that difference in terms of Welsh speaking ability between the Welsh-medium sector and the English-medium sector. And the challenges are different in those two contexts. We have a lot more to do in that sense. We've published the framework already, but we need resources and training to accompany that to ensure the provision. And it is an ambitious and long-term plan. This is not something that can happen overnight, but I certainly think that this is one of the findings that emerged from the census results, that we need to focus on provision in the English-medium sector. We have a scheme for 23 new Welsh-medium schools and for moving 25 along the continuum towards category 3, but for decades we will still have very large numbers of English-medium schools, and we can't be in a situation where children leave English-medium schools not being confident in Welsh. So, we have to ensure an emphasis on that as well.

You're right to say that the workforce is a challenge. I've been clear about that. We do have a 10-year plan that correlates with the 10-year WESPs, but we do need progress every year, not just over the long term. So, I have said that we'll be very practical about that. There are lots of things, lots of actions in that plan. The things that work, we'll do more of them; the things that don't work, we'll stop doing them. So, this is an entirely practical exercise to increase those numbers. 

And in terms of the final question, on accountability, there are weaknesses in terms of the ability to enforce these objectives, we know that, and that is one of the things that we're discussing with Plaid Cymru in terms of the new Welsh-medium education Bill.