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Gareth Morgan: Lessons can be learned from Welsh system

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Welsh is spoken fluently by a far higher proportion of the population (20pc) than Irish in Ireland, and in some towns as many as 85pc speak the language. PA

Welsh is spoken fluently by a far higher proportion of the population (20pc) than Irish in Ireland, and in some towns as many as 85pc speak the language. PA

Welsh is spoken fluently by a far higher proportion of the population (20pc) than Irish in Ireland, and in some towns as many as 85pc speak the language. PA

Dividing language teaching into two separate syllabi is a 'cleddyf dwyochrog' - or double-edged sword.

I doubt I'd even be able to recall the phrase, had I not taken Welsh as a first language subject at school up to the age of 16.

I found the GCSE course challenging, as it was heavy on literature and demanded grammatical excellence - although it was not beyond my class of pupils who grew up in a native Welsh-speaking community.

What frustrated was the ability of some pupils in the same year to opt for the second language curriculum, and take a far "easier" course to GCSE level. Some did this even if they regularly spoke Welsh at home. They were pretty much guaranteed A grades.

The loophole that enabled pupils from Welsh speaking homes to study a second language in secondary schools has now, thankfully, been closed. All pupils who have Welsh-medium education in primary schools must take the Welsh first language programme in secondary school.

But there is still great debate as to whether the two separate curricula are entirely necessary.

Welsh is spoken fluently by a far higher proportion of the population (20pc) than Irish in Ireland, and in some towns as many as 85pc speak the language.

There have been long-standing issues and disputes about the supply and demand for Welsh-medium education. It varies from almost universal entitlement in north-west Wales, to areas where parents have had to campaign long and hard to secure sufficient places.

Welsh-medium schools have a strong reputation for the quality of education provided.

But other pupils study Welsh as a second language - and the evidence points to them making little real progress between the ages of seven and 16.

Ironically, as Ireland looks to two separate syllabi there is now a growing conviction that 'second language' needs to be phased out and replaced with a single Welsh syllabus. This would be a programme of study for all pupils but the starting point on the spectrum would be very different, depending on pupils' prior knowledge and understanding.

Irish Independent