Every child counts – Mudiad Meithrin’s response to the WESPs review by Aled Roberts
In all aspects of life, it’s easier to cast blame, find flaws and offer counter-arguments than to offer solutions or a constructive vision. These observations on the discussion regarding the strategic planning for Welsh in education are made in this context. First of all, we should remember and acknowledge that there was no coherent national system or framework for the WESPs prior to the One Wales government in 2007 (and their introduction in legislation in 2013). We shouldn’t for a second, therefore, doubt the significance of the existence of the planning process nor suppose that the myriad of problems leads someone to think that they are of no value at all.
In this blog, I’d like to emphasize the importance of the independent review of the WESPs by Aled Roberts, former AM and Welsh-medium education champion.
Aled Roberts knows from his grass roots experience – after years of overseeing the growth of Welsh- medium care and education in Wrexham – that coherent strategic planning and the setting of visual and ambitious targets is essential in order to make progress. This may be one of the challenges the current system presents. Far too many local authorities have used the WESPs to provide a projection of the numbers that are likely to want Welsh-medium education (based on the status quo) rather than using the process – and the Welsh Government’s desire to see a growth in Welsh-medium education – in order to increase provision and set clear targets for a specific number of new Welsh-medium schools. This is probably why the Minister rejected so many of the original WESPs in 2017.
I also welcome Aled Roberts’s acknowledgement of the importance of the Early Years and the impact of childcare arrangements (the “pre-school” phase) on what happens in the statutory sector (in school). The intention to ensure that that particular attention is given to Welsh-medium provision before the child reaches school – by changing outcome 1 to focus on care and education in the preceding phase – is a positive development. This confirms the importance of joint planning between Local Authorities and Mudiad Meithrin to ensure that children who attend the Cylchoedd Meithrin aren’t denied the opportunity to receive Welsh-medium education when they start school. It is also an indication of the importance of the childcare offer (providing 30 hours’ free childcare to 3 and 4 year olds) and its impact on education policy.
The fact that not all children leave Cylch to go on to be educated in Welsh may come as a surprise to many of those who read this blog (particularly given the high density of Cylchoedd Meithrin and Welsh-medium schools in some areas). However, let’s look at an example of a Cylch Meithrin that is located – for historical reasons – 5 miles away from the nearest Welsh-medium school. Can we blame the parents for not sending their (3 or 4 year old) child to that school, especially if there is no free transport available? Of course, it could be argued that the Cylch Meithrin should not have been situated in that area in the first place, but could we justify depriving the children of that community of the opportunity to attend the Cylch Meithrin (as they would have had a playgroup – i.e. English-medium provision – there otherwise)? There are simple temporary solutions – providing free transport to any child wishing to attend a Welsh medium school – during the period of planning for progress in Welsh medium locations.
I’ve heard one or two people dismissing the importance of the progression from Cylch Meithrin to Welsh medium education and questioning the value of having 5 or 6 children progressing from the Cylch to Welsh medium education. To Mudiad Meithrin, every child counts. Yes, we would love to see every child in Wales receive their care and education through the medium of Welsh (starting by providing Foundation Phase education in Welsh only). But until that becomes a reality – and the necessary workforce infrastructure is in place – we should not doubt the importance of every child who makes that revolutionary journey from the Cylch Meithrin to Welsh-medium education.
As Raymond Williams said, “to be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing”.
And though we need more than ‘faith, hope and charity’ to see the growth of Welsh-medium provision in care and education, it is part of our challenge to make a million Welsh speakers by 2050 (an optimistic vision) possible.
Dr Gwenllian Lansdown Davies
Chief Executive, Mudiad Meithrin