Today is the first day of a new school year, but for one school in particular it marks a significant change.
The primary school in Trimsaran, the home of the new Ffos Las racecourse, has had a Welsh and English stream running side by side for decades. Jonathan Davies, for example, went through the Welsh stream.
I read a few months ago in the Western Mail that this was this was going to change as the demand for EM education falls. From today, the English-medium stream at Trimsaran is being phased out and the school will, over the course of a few years, become a Welsh-medium school.
I have been very critical of some of Sir Gâr's education policies—and I still am—but this is something for which I must praise them. It is exactly the sort of thing I proposed here. I'd like to see what is happening in Trimsaran happening in other schools in the county, or for schools which are entirely EM to introduce WM streams. This evolutionary approach is much, much better than having to close existing schools to open new WM schools.
This can happen more easily in those parts of Wales that have a higher percentage of Welsh speakers. To give you an idea of the latent possibilities, I recently came across a report in which the head of one EM school in nearby Llanelli said that all twelve of her teachers were capable of teaching Welsh as a second language, but that none of them were currently proficient to teach through the medium of Welsh.
I have mentioned my concerns at the poor quality of WSL teaching, and do not want to single out just one person for an attitude which is widespread in large parts of Wales: namely that the standard of Welsh required to teach Welsh as a second language is lower than it would be to teach in Welsh. I believe the exact opposite is true: that teaching Welsh as a subject requires better training than teaching in the medium of Welsh. Too often teaching Welsh in EM schools has been left to any teacher who can speak a little Welsh themselves, rather than those with specific training in the subject.
Now obviously I don't know the linguistic capabilities of every teacher in Wales, but it just so happens that I know the person who was interviewed for the Western Mail's story. She has spoken Welsh all her life and been a teacher all her working life, but she has taught the English rather than the Welsh stream. This is where the Sabbaticals Scheme can, and does, make a real difference. It does not take all that much to turn a teacher who can already speak Welsh well (but who is used to teaching in English) into a teacher who can teach children in Welsh. The same would no doubt be true of many other teachers too, and it provides one of the main keys to expanding WM provision.
None of us can be unaware of the difficulties of opening new WM schools. The demand is undoubtedly there but—unless a new school is built from scratch—the only other way of making a transition is the traumatic process of closing an EM school because of falling numbers, then opening a new WM school in the old building. It is a process that is almost guaranteed to result in unnecessary antagonism and resentment in the local community. It is also painfully slow.
It seems to me that we need as much flexibility as possible. Introducing new WM streams and letting that change work through the system as children progress from year to year is one way to make a seamless transition without the trauma.