I don’t use words like ‘crisis’ lightly. Just once before, actually, and that time a direct quote from the Guardian. But thanks to CG for sending me some information from the Vale of Glamorgan education department, I think it’s time to use the word in its full glory.
Because the statistics that have landed on my desk are absolutely shocking.
They reveal the reception class intake for every Welsh medium primary school in the Vale, and the council has a big problem on its hands. As from the start of this school year (September 2013) there is not one spare space in any Welsh language reception class in the Vale with the sole exception of Ysgol Dewi Sant, Llantwit Major (itself a new school opened just three years ago).
What this means for Penarth parents interested in Welsh-medium education for their offspring is a battle for places in Pen-y-Garth. And if you fail to get a place? No problem. The Vale will presumably bus your 4-year-old child off to Llantwit Major and back.
I don’t know many parents who would consider it acceptable to send a very young child on a 1 hour 8 minute round trip to attend school. So what on earth has the Vale council been doing over the last few years to precipitate this disastrous state of affairs?
is not considered an option as there is a continuing increase in parents choosing welsh medium education. From September 2010 the current number of reception class places in Ysgol Pen y Garth is insufficient for the numbers requiring places. The council will therefore be in breach of its obligations under the Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998.
It’s important to note that the 2009 report also stated:
the increase in demand for welsh medium education [in Penarth] is predicted to continue into the long term.
Reception class numbers have surged from 29 in 2006 to 60 in 2013. Given that there were 59 in 2012, presumably the reason numbers haven’t increased beyond 60 is because that’s the school’s maximum capacity. The rate of increase between 2006 and 2012 was 30 new reception class pupils over 6 years, or an increase of 5 per year on average. So it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that there are already 4 children in Penarth failing to enjoy the lifelong benefit of bilingual education as a result of the Vale’s failure to plan for long-term Welsh-medium growth. Each further year of delay adds another 5.
Is the council in breach of its obligations under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998? I think so. Section 1 of the legislation imposes a maximum infants class (reception) size of 30 pupils. Section 2 requires every local education authority to:
prepare a statement setting out the arrangements which the authority propose to make for the purpose of securing that any limit imposed under section 1 is complied with in relation to infant classes at schools maintained by the authority.
And what is the Vale doing to rectify the situation? Let’s not forget that in 2009 the council recognised that increased demand for bilingual education would continue “into the long term”. Very late in the day, the education department has decided to undertake a survey of parents with children under 2 years of age to assess demand.
I’d be very surprised if demand wasn’t way above 60 pupils per year. That’s not only because study after study has demonstrated that bilinguals have better educational and social outcomes and therefore improved job prospects (and a 10% salary premium to boot). It’s not just because being bilingual provides extra fortitude against mental deterioration in older age. It’s also because the overwhelming proportion of people in Penarth recognise that only a bilingual education provides our children with a full appreciation of the culture and languages of our wonderful country.
The Vale might try to hide behind the figures on surplus places that show that of the primary sector in Penarth, Ysgol Pen-y-Garth has the highest proportion of surplus places. That would be very disingenuous, given that the school has only just expanded to a 2-form entry. Perhaps more interesting is to tot up the total number of surplus places in the English-medium sector (190) and suggest that an English-medium school should be closed to make way for the latent demand for bilinguals. Just prepare for highly-charged comments from those with an interest in the status quo.
I’m sure Councillor Chris Elmore will not unfairly blame his predecessor Anthony Hampton for taking his eye off the situation in Penarth and allowing things to deteriorate so badly. But now, Chris, it’s time for action. We need a new Welsh-medium primary school in Penarth.