Just as it is a joy to hear a baby utter its first words, the sound of children and young people growing confident in the use of Welsh is a wonderful thing. When they begin to communicate and express themselves fluently and have a full sense of Welsh culture, they enjoy the richness and opportunities offered by both languages of Wales and deepen their sense of identity.
There is much evidence to suggest that learning a second language has a positive impact on an individual’s learning and development. It is challenging, can build capacity to learn additional languages and can open the mind to different ways of thinking and seeing the world. And yes, it can be fun.
So there are many great reasons for children and young people to aspire to become increasingly bilingual… But there is an even stronger reason to learn Welsh in Wales: it is our national language.
Graham Donaldson understands the benefits and the value of learning and using Welsh as a central component of the new curriculum for Wales. He was very particular in his Successful Futures report that all children and young people should be able to use both Welsh and English by the age of 16. Hence Welsh as a language will sit within the Languages, Literacy and Communication ‘Area of Learning and Experience’ (AoLE), one of six AoLEs which make up the new curriculum. There is also the expectation that the Welsh language, history, literature and culture will be a cross-cutting theme across all areas of learning and experience. So this is an exciting time for teaching and learning Welsh in our schools.
Education in Wales: our national mission is also clear that a transformational approach to the learning, teaching and assessment of Welsh is needed. Fortunately we are building on a solid foundation of Welsh-medium and Welsh language teaching and learning that has enabled generations of children to become fluent in the Welsh language. By working together across schools, regions and Higher Education, providing opportunities to share effective practice based on international research, we are ensuring our teachers are prepared to deliver the best possible learning experiences in all settings.
Collaboration on this is already growing. Since September, Welsh teachers across the regions have been working collaboratively on the introduction of the Welsh GCSE second language qualification which raises the bar on expectations for learners to be able to communicate in Welsh. Clusters of primary and secondary schools are also working together on effective transition and solid progression of Welsh language skills from the early years. This is important as we work towards having just one Welsh language learning pathway within the new curriculum.
Also supporting this movement are the Siarter Iaith and Cymraeg Campus schemes, with more and more excellent examples of school councils embracing positive attitudes and increased use of the Welsh language in everyday school life.
But ensuring the Welsh language and culture is rooted in every aspect of a school’s life and ethos will involve school leaders and governors owning the vision, mapping out the language capabilities of staff and building up capacity within schools, using schemes like the Welsh Language Sabbatical scheme. School leaders from all sectors must work together strategically to really make a difference.
The Welsh in Education Action Plan being launched today runs over four years initially, with a clear expectation that a further phase of implementation will be needed for us to realise our long term vision. It involves partnership work across all tiers within the education system. It recognises that over time practitioners will be given opportunities to improve their Welsh language skills from Initial Teacher Education onwards. This will lead to enhanced opportunities for practitioners to work in Welsh-medium and bilingual settings.
This is not about a quick fix agenda. Changes must be transformational, far reaching and sustainable. We want to change attitudes and practices over time to make speaking and using Welsh an entitlement for all our young people. They must be able to look back at their Welsh language learning journey as a success and feel proud to be confident Welsh speakers. They must understand that they can continue to develop their skills throughout their lives. We want them to confidently use their Welsh in the home, in the community, and in the workplace.
Our aim in The Welsh in Education Action Plan is to ensure that the building blocks needed to deliver the change – leadership, capacity and infrastructure -are embedded so that we can move confidently forward towards our national aim of a million Welsh speakers by 2050. Together we can make this happen.