Torfaen Syndrome

I mentioned in my last post that people in the Vale had been suffering from Torfaen Syndrome. I think it’s worth exploring this issue in a little more depth.

My definition of Torfaen Syndrome is the propensity for parents of children attending non-Welsh medium schools to assume that because their children are attending schools in Wales they are necessarily going to be bilingual. This manifested itself particularly during the 2001 census (41.5% of children aged 3-15 in Torfaen were recorded as having some level of Welsh language competence (page 64 of this report)), and part of the reason for the apparent decline in bilingualism in Wales in the intervening decade is the recognition that a non-Welsh language education does not produce bilingual citizens. Even in Torfaen. Not that this characteristic is confined to Torfaen alone – Blaenau Gwent’s equivalent figures in 2001 were 34.9%, Newport reported 36.4% and Monmouthshire rated 36.0%. The Vale of Glamorgan was positively restrained in 2001, stating that just 29.4% of children were bilingual.

So what happened in 2011?

Unfortunately I need to use a slightly different set of figures in order to make an exact comparison. Blame the statistics people, not me. But here are the results for local authorities in south east Wales – in each case, the percentage of children aged 5-15 speaking Welsh in 2001 is listed first, then 2011:

  • Bridgend:                              27.6%,  27.1%
  • Vale of Glamorgan: 32.5%, 32.0%
  • Cardiff:                                  27.9%,  29.2%
  • Rhondda Cynon Taf:       31.5%,  32.7%
  • Merthyr Tudful:                26.6%,  24.5%
  • Caerphilly:                           36.4%,  36.3%
  • Blaenau Gwent:                  38.8%,  34.0%
  • Torfaen:                                46.6%, 40.3%
  • Monmouthshire:               40.6%, 42.0%
  • Newport:                              41.3%,  38.6%

Now you know why it’s called Torfaen Syndrome!

I referred in my last post to the proportion of children receiving Welsh language education in the Vale. At primary level it’s 13% and at secondary level 9% (the difference is largely a result of increased capacity at primary level feeding through into a growing secondary school).

I’ll accept that perhaps 1% of children attending English-medium education will end up bilingual. Perhaps I’m being a little generous, but some of my acquaintances are bilingual having received education through English in Wales. But we’re still left with the chasm of reporting between a maximum 15% of children realistically being bilingual and the reported level (by parents) of 32%.

What impact does this have on the Vale statistics? Well, the total number of children in the age category 5-15 was 16,499 at the census date. So we need to subtract 17%  (32%-15%) of this total (2,805) from the Vale’s population of bilinguals (13,189). Which leaves 10,384, or 8.5% of the 122,018 population. That’s a significant drop. Am I worried about the accuracy of the census? A little, but then what holds for the Vale presumably holds for all authorities in the grip of Torfaen Syndrome, so the relative place of the Vale (16th in Wales) is probably reasonably sound.

Perhaps one thing revealed by the census is  the desire among parents in Wales for their children to speak Welsh. Little do they recognise that that desire will  only become realised if they send their children to Welsh medium schools.

On this, I’m more than a little surprised by the 2009 Estyn report for Ysgol Pen-y-Garth, which suggests that:

About 29% of the pupils come from homes where Welsh is the main language

Given that Welsh speaking skills are at their highest in Stanwell ward of Penarth, with 11.8% (less if we accept the existence of Torfaen Syndrome), unless bilinguals are reproducing at more than double the rate of monolinguals, something is amiss. But as to the Welsh medium system’s ability to churn out bilinguals, as the latest (2009) Estyn report for Ysgol Bro Morgannwg points out:

All pupils speak Welsh as a first language or to an equivalent standard within the school.

Despite the fact that just 9% of pupils come from Welsh-speaking homes.

So here’s a message for parents, and future parents, who could be seized by Torfaen Syndrome. You can hope that the English-medium education system will work miracles. Your chances of one of your children ending up bilingual are substantially less than your chances of having 6 children all of the same gender.

The only way to guarantee bilingual children is for them to receive Welsh language education.

4 Sylw

Filed under Education, Vale of Glamorgan Council, Welsh Government

4 responses to “Torfaen Syndrome

  1. MH

    I didn’t give it a name, but might have called it Monmouthshire syndrome. According to another set of figures, which I drew attention to here, only 22.6% of primary school children and only 6.8% of secondary school children in Monmouthshire cannot speak Welsh. Those figures, based on parental assessment, would mean that a there is a greater percentage of Welsh-speaking children in Monmouthshire than anywhere else in Wales except Gwynedd and Ynys Môn.

    I wouldn’t be so surprised at the 29% figure for Ysgol Pen-y-Garth. It’s the “concentration effect”. As Pen-y-Garth is the only WM school in the Penarth/Dinas Powys/Llandochau area, I’d expect all the Welsh-speaking families in that area to send their children there. 29% of 301 is 87. Allowing for siblings, it would just mean there are maybe 70 mainly Welsh-speaking families with children of primary school age in an area with a total population of more than 30,000.

    But it goes without saying that I agree with your main point.

  2. Good point on the “concentration effect” MH. But it’s still slightly incongruous with the proportion of children in YG Bro Morgannwg coming from Welsh-speaking households (9%). If the concentration effect worked to the same extent for secondary education we’d expect a similar result.

    Perhaps one issue is the definition – whether Welsh is the ‘main language’ (Ysgol P-y-G) of the household or as with Ysgol Gyfun BM: “About 91% of the pupils come from homes where the predominant language spoken is English, and nine per cent come from Welsh-speaking homes”.

  3. MH

    It could be a matter of definition. Looking at the Estyn reports for other schools, the description is not always consistent. For example Sant Curig is described as having “78% of pupils coming from homes where no Welsh is spoken by either parent.”

    However I’ve just looked through the figures again and am more inclined to think that the high percentage at Pen-y-Garth is mainly due to it being the only WM primary in an area with a population of just over 30,000. Compare it with Barry, which now has four WM primaries in an area with a population of just over 50,000.

    Even though Pen-y-Garth is in the process of becoming a two-form entry school, the only reasonable conclusion is that there still isn’t enough WM provision in the Penarth/Dinas Powys/Llandochau area. If there was one more WM school in the area, the percentage of children from mainly Welsh-speaking homes would drop to about 15% in each school, and if there were two more the percentage would drop to about 10% … which is just about the current average level for the Vale. That would suggest that three WM primary schools is about right for the area, but let’s start with adding just one.

    Dinas Powys would probably be the best location for the next WM school. My solution would be to amalgamate Dinas Powys Infant and Murch Junior on the Murch site (which is a good thing to do anyway from an educational point of view), and then make Dinas Powys Infants into a 1FE WM school.

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