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.