This is our Government’s ambition. Clearly, in my opinion, this is a significant ambition but the big question is how are we going to reach the one million target? There is no doubt that Welsh Government is placing a great emphasis on education, and this will be the focus of my post.
Education plays a role in responding to the ambition by doing its best to increase the numbers of people who can speak and use our language. Users are the key to that success. We must encourage pupils who are learning the language to use these skills, and this starts with the school’s vision and ethos.
Donaldson mentions in Successful Futures:
‘There should be a renewed focus in schools on learning Welsh primarily as a means of communication, particularly oral communication and understanding.’Communication is the focus for the future, to communicate in our mother tongue, the oldest language in Europe, a language closely related to Cornish and Breton.
When forming your school’s vision, you need to share with your stakeholders the importance of Welsh in the new Curriculum.
But it’s not only our language that warrants attention. We also need to promote our heritage and celebrate our country as well as our language:
‘Each of these Areas of Learning and Experience should include, where appropriate, both a Welsh dimension and an international perspective in line with the recommendations of the independent review of the Cwricwlwm Cymreig, history and the story of Wales.’
Therefore, I believe every school needs to start considering the attention they give to our country’s history and heritage as a starting point. In doing this, there will be many opportunities to make more effective use of the language as part of class research.
Merthyr was our most important town in the Victorian era. Cardiff docks were key in transporting Merthyr’s iron throughout the world to create train tracks in the United States, Canada, Australia and beyond.
‘By the 1820s, Merthyr was the source of 40% of Britain's iron exports………Merthyr maintained its supremacy as the world’s number 1 ‘Iron and Steel Town’ until the 1850’s.’
Welsh was the language of the Valleys! Why am I referring to the above? Well, in our history there are many historical events to be celebrated, remembered and considered and sometimes when choosing a theme from a public scheme, you don’t always get a taste of the local area or the Welsh context. As a starting point, in September I will be suggesting to all schools to consider studying the local area or Welsh history when planning for the year.
As I mentioned, Welsh was the language of the Valleys, and within our five authorities there is huge potential to make better use of the language. In order to nurture users, I think we have to give them confidence. Confidence to say good morning, thank you and welcome. Confidence to ask ‘Can I...’, confidence to know that people won’t judge them for making a mistake. One of my favourite quotes is:
“Don’t carry your mistakes with you; place them under your feet, and use them as stepping stones.”@NataliePalombi tweets this message regularly.
This is a good way to start the language learning journey. Consider the mistakes as steps to move forward rather than as problems.
Difficulties become evident along the way, and the changes to GCSE First Language and Second Language are an example of this. We at the Consortium are trying our best to ensure that our hubs offer a programme of support for you, and we intend to set up regional meetings to support you on this journey. However, one of the main difficulties is the number of Welsh speakers in our workforce who have the right qualifications. This is a problem that arises regularly, therefore I would appeal to any prospective students, sixth form students and Welsh speakers in the world of work to consider a career in teaching. We support ITE mentoring programmes, GTP and work with Teach First. But undoubtedly, the aim is to attract Welsh speakers to the world of education. This is one of my main focuses in my new role.
Successful Futures refers to the language continuum, and getting rid of the idea of first language and second language and focusing on the Welsh language. Clarification is certainly needed on how this will look. I can say with confidence that Estyn are looking at the use of the Welsh language beyond the classroom or language lessons in Welsh and English medium schools. For English medium establishments, there is an expectation that the language is visible in all aspects of the curriculum e.g. physical education, history etc. Several schools have received a recommendation on the use of the language across the curriculum. In preparing for the continuum, the Welsh in Education officers are following several projects with this in mind e.g. combining Welsh second language skills with the DCF.
In our Welsh medium schools, the aim is encourage the use of Welsh beyond the school walls, and in order to support them on this journey Welsh Government have introduced the Language Charter as a means of structuring schools’ efforts to succeed. The Consortium will soon appoint a Welsh Language Charter Officer in order to support schools with this.We have a special reason to celebrate the language in our area at the end of the month when the Urdd Eisteddfod, the largest youth festival in Europe, is held on our doorstep in Bridgend. I would encourage all to join in the fun and enjoy the opportunity to hear the language alive in our region.
Yes, there will be difficulties along the way in developing the number of Welsh speakers, and we need to accept that fact. However, all difficulties can be seen as steps forward to achieving the target of a million speakers, as our national anthem echoes:
“Oh, long live the old language”The language is alive in our region but we need all schools to share the vision and give every child every possible chance to use of the language in their daily lives. We have a golden opportunity before us with Successful Futures to make use of the language and now is the time to prepare for the future with enthusiasm and to celebrate our nation and our Welsh language.