Friday 5 August 2016

The Swirling Dust Chokes Common Sense

Since the EU referendum result there have been big political movements but the dust still blows around relentlessly with seemingly endless and random political turmoil.
From the relatively civilized and managed dethronement of David Cameron and George Osbourne to the chaotic "Anyone but Corbin" coup attempt in Labour party, the tumbleweed continues to blow past the Last Chance Saloon. UKIP are the next to struggle with a leadership contest, following the Assembly Group leadership contest with a far more bitter UK Party battle. As an outsider I don't know enough about any major party to offer any explanations but will wait for the kiss and tell stories, or in the case of the Conservatives something around page 327 of a weighty political biography.

Even here in Carmarthenshire tremors are disrupting normal political life, Sitting Labour Councillors de-selected by the local party, some then reinstated on appeal. Our Llanelli MP now said to fear deselection too, allegedly from the large number of new Labour members, suspected supporters of JC, who may take her resignation from the shadow cabinet as an unforgivable  show of disloyalty to Jeremy Corbyn.

Even Plaid has a hint of dangerous eccentricity, having decided, as part of their policy to increase the number of welsh speakers, on the "cost neutral" policy of converting all streamed primary schools, those with 2 groups of children taught in the same building through either the medium of welsh or English, to Welsh medium only schools. Quite acceptable to most communities where there are easily accessible alternative English Language Schools, not so welcome in the village of Llangennech where there is no guarantee of an English language school place anywhere nearby and no hope of any help from the County Council in the transition period for transportation etc. In contrast to the council's policy of giving free school transport to children who opt for Welsh medium education where there is no local Welsh Medium provision, the privilege is not to be shared  with those who wish their children to be educated in the medium of English..

 Bad news of course for some English Medium primary school teachers in the area, but many actually  are native Welsh speakers. Years  ago I moved my own children from an English medium school to a streamed school when I discovered the poor quality of Welsh language teaching my younger  children had been  getting. The head teacher was outraged. "How can you say we don't teach Welsh well?" he said "We teachers speak Welsh to each other in front of the pupils all the time".

 I've never regretted the move and neither have my daughters. However, both my older children had learning difficulties and both did well in English medium primary education. I really doubt they would have done as well in a second language.  However, both now are extremely sympathetic to the Welsh language, one aims to become fluent in Welsh and the other, with all the enthusiasm of youth, is fully behind converting all schools in Wales to  Welsh medium only at all levels, even though it would mean that his own ambitions to become a Physics teacher might have to be fulfilled in another country.

Gareth Jones, the Plaid Executive Councillor for Education, is adamant that no quarter will be given in Llangennech and that not being bilingual is such a disadvantage that refusal to allow your children to attend a Welsh Medium Primary School is practically child neglect. All  research quoted seems to be the old Canadian standard stuff but the French/English language position in Canada is considerably different than the position of English and Welsh here.

Now in Carmarthenshire, Welsh Medium education is already the majority choice in primary school and very well favoured by native Welsh speakers and middle class English Speaking families. If the school in Llangennech is left to develop in the Community as a streamed school the English stream, already smaller than the Welsh one, could naturally become redundant over time. However, to impose Welsh medium education on families who have not chosen it is a dangerous game. The accusation that the Welsh Nationalist Party will force everybody in Wales to speak Welsh is one charge which is hurled at them in English speaking areas by their political opponents. Ridiculous, but given credibility by this attempt seeking to force parents in a majority English speaking community to put their children into immersive Welsh tuition whether they want it or not..

Saving the Welsh Language is a big job, and unnecessarily making enemies never a great idea. Even if every child leaves primary school fluent in Welsh, continues their education in Welsh in Secondary School and are all fluent Welsh speakers at 18, they then ,practically, have any formal degree level education and most other adult training through the medium of English  only and many, perhaps most, may well leave the area to study or for work. Ironically, the better their educational achievement, the lower the likelihood may be of them being socially able to remain in or near a Welsh speaking community. Immersion learning may accelerate competence in another language but if  you rarely use it you risk losing that competence and confidence.We need to set up sizable Welsh communities to actually preserve Welsh as a language of the future, a language of local development, industry, innovation and commerce. We need to do more than just teach children fluent welsh in isolation.

In Scotland, the free tuition fees only apply to Scottish Universities and only those who can prove that the course they need is worthwhile and not found in Scotland can apply for grant support outside Scotland. This is much better scheme than trying to tempt graduates back with fee refunds for living in Wales after graduation. By then they will have lived away for some years and may well find it easier to get their first jobs in the area they have been studying in. This is especially important in medicine where the newly graduated doctors are very likely to be offered their first jobs within the area they trained in,and the longer they stay away the less likelihood of returning permanently.

Converting streamed schools may be low cost but may well  also be low impact. We needs more resolve, more money and more courage to save the language and Plaid Cymru members know that.
Adam Price AM

What can we do to keep welsh speaking youngsters in a community and boost the local economy. at the same time?

Adam Price's short paper Arfor written in 2013 has been the most inspirational document I have read in the last few years on the practical preservation of Welsh. Although  personally I   do have a few doubts about the local authority leadership plan [mainly due to my own Local Government experience in Carmarthenshire where the comparison with the Sicilian Mafia is very flattering - the mafia traditionally actually have objectives, albeit criminal, a code of honour  and a degree of competence.]

 The general Arfor plan is surely deliverable and would stimulate the economy of Carmarthenshire much more than the many new private housing estates, mainly for retirees, currently promoted locally. It would provide exclusively social housing for the settlement, attract residents who would be enthusiastic and inspired by the project, as well as freeing up other local social housing for general use. It would need careful legal protections but if set up as a stand alone project it should work. Funding could be partly from  Welsh Government and it may inspire many private individuals to donate generously, and perhaps the wealthy diaspora could finally feel that something worthwhile deserved their support. Its time that the Plaid Cymru Group that allegedly lead  Carmarthenshire found their building site to deliver the Arfor Project,, rather than fret about whether or not anther supermarket is built at Cross Hands.

When it is clear that the welsh language is practical, dynamic and economically positive locally, language choice is really boosted towards Welsh.  English speaking parents are not fooled by  lectures on the advantages of bilingualism in Canada which they can see are not replicated here

How about putting the changes at Llangennech school on the back burner for a few years and start actually planning and building a future in the Welsh Language that is attractive , prosperous and exciting?

plenty of brownfield sites in Carmarthenshire .
 Siân Caiach

PS The Arfor document used to be accessible on the Plaid Cymru website but they have changed the access choices and I can't find it today. If anyone wants the English text I have a copy and will send to on request::

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