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

Part of the debate – in the Senedd at 5:29 pm on 31 January 2023.

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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?