Long journeys blamed as children drop out of Welsh medium education
Parents are opting against their children continuing to learn through Welsh due to school journeys of more than an hour each way, it has been claimed.
Youngsters who attend Ysgol y Ffin in Caldicot or Ysgol y Fenni, in Abergavenny, have to travel to either Ysgol Gwent Is Coed, in Newport, or the area’s oldest Welsh medium comprehensive, Ysgol Gwynllyw in Pontypool, to continue their studies through the language at secondary level.
But that means many parents simply decide against putting their children on a bus “for hours” according to Abergavenny Park ward councillor Tudor Thomas who said there is a “bleed” of Welsh speaking pupils from the two primaries.
The Labour councillor, who left the ruling cabinet when it was re-shuffled in May, also said he was “disappointed” that teaching through Welsh in Monmouth won’t now begin in September this year, as the cabinet had agreed in January, but is delayed by 12 months.
Cllr Thomas said: “I’m really disappointed a satellite class in Monmouth is delayed and not opening in September 2023, as many parents and the group Rhieni Dros Addysg Gymrage (Parents for Welsh Medium Education) had hoped.
“The funding was awarded in 2017 and it’s now 2023 and it hasn’t opened. I certainly hope there will be some movement over the next year and in my opinion the key will be finally establishing a Cylch Meithrin (Welsh medium nursery) in Monmouth this coming September to feed into the new school.”
Earlier in June Monmouthsire’s Labour-led cabinet said it had scrapped plans to open a satellite class of Ysgol y Ffin in Monmouth this September, after only three children had signed up ahead of January’s deadline, but has published a formal notice of its intention to open a new school in the town from September 2024.
That will open with a seedling class at English medium Overmonnow Primary School with the intention the school will grow by a class size each year.
Despite the intention to establish a third Welsh medium primary Cllr Thomas said he feared development of the language is being stunted as the county doesn’t have a Welsh medium secondary.
He said: “The other great concern I have, and parents of children in Welsh medium provision, is the fact that Monmouthshire County Council is the only authority in Wales, out of the 22 local authorities that hasn’t got a Welsh medium secondary school we have to send them out of county.”
He said he’d taken part in a Question Time style programme on S4C and pupils from Ysgol Gwynllyw, in Pontpool, which serves Monmouthshire, complained about the travelling they have to undertake.
“They spoke eloquently about long journey times that they experience, some of them travelling over an hour and 10 minutes each way. Two hours, 20 minutes in a bus, even for a secondary school pupil, is too long and it does affect the energy they have to tackle a full school day, do their homework and revision.
“We really need, I’m asking, what are the plans in terms of the establishment of a Welsh medium secondary school within Monmouthshire County Council?
“There’s a loss of pupils, between the two very successful Welsh medium primary schools. The bleed is happening very much due to the long travel times. People do not want to put their kids on the bus for hours on end.”
The council has previously said it is in talks about the possibility of establishing a Welsh medium secondary with Powys County Council and Blaenau Gwent. All three councils are currently without Welsh medium secondaries.
Cllr Thomas said: “It’s out in the ether people are asking me when is it going to come?”
Will McLean, the council’s head of children and young people, said it is an “ambition” to have a Welsh medium secondary in Monmouthshire but even at the end of its 10 year Welsh Education Strategic Plan, in 2032, “the numbers of Welsh learners wouldn’t be sufficient to have a school of sufficient size to have a broad curriculum.”
Mr McLean said he “understood the concerns about the bleed from Welsh medium” but said the numbers going on to secondary level are increasing with 27 due to transfer this September against 24 two years ago.
On the plans with neighbouring councils the officer said: “We’re working with colleagues in Blaenau Gwent and Powys over the head of the valleys area and if there is a potential solution there.”
Labour Councillor for Dewstow Tony Easson said he is concerned about the retention of Welsh medium teachers while Conservative member for Llanfoist and Govilon, Tomos Davies, said he was worried about any possible delay to the establishment of the Cylch Meithrin in Monmouth.
Mr McLean said the council is doing “all we can” to ensure the independent pre-school provision is established but its difficulties underlined recruitment challenges as the previous setting had closed after its leader left.
He said the strategic plan recognises recruitment as a challenge and he said without a “natural conurbation of a high level of Welsh spoken” it is more difficult than in other parts of Wales and said Ysgol y Fenni and Ysgol y Ffin need to be “really attractive to teachers.”
Cllr Thomas said a Welsh medium secondary would boost the availability of potential teachers and other staff who are fluent in the language.
He said: “In reality if we want to solve the problem of Welsh medium teachers and staff we need to have a Welsh medium secondary school.”
By BBC LDRS
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