A ‘missed opportunity’? What next for Welsh in Education Strategic Plans?

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Welsh-medium education is never far from the headlines and the issue will again be debated by Assembly Members on Tuesday 10 October 2017. Alun Davies, Minister for Lifelong Learning and Welsh Language will be making a statement on the ‘Rapid Review of the Welsh in Education Strategic Plans 2017-2020’ (WESPs).

A million Welsh speakers by 2050

This is a picture of some coloured pencils.The Welsh Government has set an ambition for a million Welsh speakers by 2050. It has made it clear that a growth in Welsh-medium education will be required if it is to fulfil this vision. In its 2017 Welsh Language Strategy, the Welsh Government published a trajectory based on policy changes that will be required in order to increase the number of Welsh speakers aged three and over in Wales between 2017 and 2050. Referring to Welsh-medium education it said:

The first four years will see very small gains. We anticipate that greater gains will be made towards the end of the first decade as we reach two of our transformational milestones: the expansion of Welsh-medium early years provision by 150 nursery groups and an increase in the proportion of each school year group receiving Welsh-medium education to 30 per cent by 2031.

It also set out its intention to ‘increase the proportion of each school year group receiving Welsh-medium education from 22 per cent (based on 7,700 seven-year-old learners in 2015/16) to 30 per cent (about 10,500 in each year group) by 2031, and then 40 per cent (about 14,000 in each year group) by 2050.’

What are Welsh in Education Strategic Plans?

Local authorities are responsible for providing school places. In terms of delivering the 2050 ambition therefore, the Welsh Government is heavily reliant on local authorities to both increase Welsh-medium pupil numbers and to also ensure that there are school buildings within which to teach them. Welsh in Education Strategic Plans are the mechanism by which the Welsh Government requires each local authority to set out their plans for developing Welsh-medium education. Local Authorities have a legal duty to produce three year plans which set out:

  • The local authority’s proposals on how it will improve the planning of the provision of Welsh-medium education in its area; the standards of Welsh-medium education and the teaching of Welsh in its area;
  • The local authority’s targets for improving the planning of the provision of Welsh-medium education in its area and for improving the standards of that education and of the teaching of Welsh in its area;
  • Progress made to meet the targets contained in the previous plan or previous revised plan.

Integral to these plans is the local authority’s assessment of the demand for Welsh-medium education in its area, and what steps it will take to meet it.

Have WESPs been a missed opportunity?

 In December 2015, the Fourth Assembly Children, Young People and Education Committee published its report into Welsh in Education Strategic Plans (PDF 1.53MB). It stated:

Welsh in Education Strategic Plans (WESPs) have the potential to deliver a significant increase in the numbers of children and young people being taught and studying for qualifications through the medium of Welsh. When WESPs were introduced, stakeholders saw this potential and welcomed them. However, many of those stakeholders are disappointed by the lack of impact WESPs have had in practice. For them, the story of WESPs so far is one of a missed opportunity. More worryingly, there are growing concerns they are not fit for purpose.

The Welsh Government published its response (PDF 293KB) on 17 February 2016.

The Rapid Review of WESPs and next steps

On the 14 March 2017, the Minister made a statement on WESPS (you can watch it here on Senedd TV). In it he announced that Aled Roberts, former liberal democrat AM, had been appointed to undertake a ‘Rapid Review of the Welsh in Education Strategic Plans 2017-2020’ He said that this review was the ‘first phase of implementing change’.

Aled Robert’s report was published on 4 August 2017 and made 18 recommendations. The Minister made a statement in which he referred to the 2050 ambition and said:

Education is at the heart of the strategy and a strong and fit for purpose planning framework must now be a priority. We must now move forward by establishing a firm foundation for the planning of Welsh-medium education across Wales.

He also said he would be writing to each Local Authority to provide feedback on their WESPs and that they would be asked to make changes to their plans.

The Welsh Government has said it intends to review the regulations and guidance in respect of WESPs in order to encourage movement along the language continuum. On Tuesday, Assembly Members will hear from the Minister about his next steps for WESPs. There will be much interest in light of these previous concerns that, to date, they have been a ‘missed opportunity’.

Further information

For further information see our previous Research Service blogs:

Article by Sian Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service