Impact on the Welsh Language
- The county has not considered the impact of this scheme on the Welsh language in the Pontardawe area. You make it clear in the original consultation that"... the Swansea Valley area is a linguistically significant area as it contains the highest number and percentages of Welsh speakers in Neath Port Talbot, and is amongst the highest in Wales as a whole”. But there is no evidence presented in the report to show that you considered this as part of the original consultation. No local engagement has taken place beyond the consultation to consider the potential impact on the Welsh language.
- Measuring the impact on the Welsh language should have taken place at the first stage of this process, during the formative stages of the proposals and not as a last-minute consideration at the end of the process. The language impact study was published 4 months after the close of the original consultation and therefore insufficient time has been given to consider the full impact on the Welsh language.
- The message Neath and Port Talbot is giving to the community is one of disrespect and the consultation process has been superficial and rushed without considering all the effects of the plan.
- The language impact assessment does not take into account the contribution that an English medium school can make to delivering Welsh language skills to its pupils. Mention is made of learning Welsh as a 'second language', without considering the introduction of Welsh on one continuum, and without considering the possibility of creating a transition school, where a school can turn every year towards becoming a Welsh-medium school
- The community was not given an opportunity to comment on the language impact assessment. The council has not discussed the effects with the community
- We are now very concerned that our efforts over the last five years will be unsuccessful in the face of the intention to establish a massive English - medium school on our doorstep, and undermines our future work
- Over the past few years, we (Menter Iaith) have been working closely with the community to try and ensure the strong future of the language in the area, which is going to be impacted negatively if this application progresses. In addition, for several years we have been working with both Welsh medium Primary and Secondary schools in order to increase the number of people choosing Welsh medium education, and continuing with Welsh medium education into secondary school at Ystalyfera. This work is also going to be impacted if the new English medium school is opened in the area.
- This new school will be within walking distance of Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Pontardawe and will include an on-site swimming pool amongst other facilities. This is a clear threat to Ysgol Gymraeg Pontardawe, as parents choose a brand new building and special facilities for their children.
- We feel this proposal goes against the WG Welsh language targets. The school would remain within walking distance of Trebannws and its facilities would be a high incentive for parents to choose English language education over Welsh. There has been no assurance, should numbers drop in Welsh medium school as a consequence of the new super school that it would not result in further school closure. Following from that, this super school sets a precedent in the area for the merging of schools. There has been no official reassurance that our school has a safe future. This proposal puts our small community school at great risk of being enveloped by Pontardawe Welsh in the future.
A significant number of objections have been received which specifically relate to the concern that the proposal will damage the development of the Welsh language in the area. Objections have been received from the governing bodies and parents of pupils attending the Welsh medium schools in the area, and from Welsh medium schools elsewhere in Neath Port Talbot, as well as from local and national individuals and groups who support the development of the language across Wales.
It is not the case that the Council has not considered the possible impacts of the proposal on opportunities for persons to use the Welsh language, or on treating the Welsh language no less favourably than the English language. In preparation for the consultation a first stage screening assessment was undertaken which identified possible causes for concern A Welsh language Impact Assessment was then developed by an independent consultant, including comments which were received during the consultation period, and this has formed part of the documents used to support the decision making process. The impact assessment identifies potential impacts, both positive and negative, and also possible mitigating actions.
Further opportunities to comment explicitly on the Welsh Language Impact Assessment have been possible during the objection period. The Welsh Language Impact Assessment has always been a document which is developed as part of the process of school reorganisation, taking into account new information gained through consultation with stakeholders as the proposal progresses, not just in this instance but for all proposals brought forward in Neath Port Talbot. As a result of comments received during this period it was recognised that in some respects the Welsh Language Impact Assessment could benefit from additional information which was not received during the consultation period, and officers have therefore met with Welsh Government representatives to discuss the further development of the Welsh Language Impact Assessment in preparation for the final report.
A report was commissioned by Welsh Government in August 2021 to further explore the following in more detail
- Defining and providing context to the term ‘linguistic sensitivity’
- Setting out the principles for safeguarding and promoting language in such an area.
- Consider how these principles could be applied to Pontardawe, within the context of the Swansea Valley proposal.
- Provide options around mitigating actions to reduce negative impacts on the stability and future growth of the Welsh language in the short, medium and long term.
The Welsh Government commissioned report notes the following ‘…it should be clearly underlined that, in terms of the language planning principles and processes noted above, no mitigating actions in the context of the future of the Welsh language in the Swansea Valley will compensate for continuing with this proposal as it stands’. It also notes that ‘In bilingual communities, languages increasingly become a matter of choice. To support bilingualism within these communities, bilingualism must be an easy choice. This proposal takes away that easy choice.’
However, the report does identify a 11 possible mitigations, many of which have already been identified as actions in the draft WESP. These actions, along with officer comments are included in the revised WLIA document.
The Welsh Government’s School Organisation Code requires the Council to consult on its proposal and to publish a consultation report summarising any issues raised by consultees, the Council’s response to those issues and Estyn’s view of the overall merit of the proposal. The Code does not require a Welsh Language Impact Assessment to be completed when proposals relate to English-medium schools. Consultation has taken place in strict adherence to the Code, from 3rd November 2020 to 19th January 2021.
Objections have been received which state that the community was not given opportunity to comment on the Welsh Language Impact Assessment. The consultation related to the proposal to establish a new school and a Welsh Language Impact Assessment was developed through the consultation to help support Members in the decision making process. The community were invited to make comment on the proposal specifically in relation to its impact on the Welsh language and opportunities to use it.
The Code specifies who should be consulted and all statutory consultees were informed. The consultation was undertaken bilingually and consultees included the Welsh-medium schools of the Swansea Valley and preschool providers. The community councils of Cilybebyll, Cwmllynfell, Gwaun Cae Gurwen and Ystalyfera along with Pontardawe Town Council were consultees and the consultation document was also sent directly to the office of the Welsh Language Commissioner. Information regarding the consultation was widely shared across the Swansea Valley communities and the proposal was given a great deal of publicity both on social media and in the press.
It is recognised that a number of organisations in the area are concerned that the proposed new school will hinder their work on developing the Welsh language. If the proposal is approved and progresses, the Welsh Language Impact Assessment will continue to be an important document, not just to ensure that any mitigating actions are carried out but to continue to highlight any areas of concern and to further support the planning process. Significant actions will be included in Neath Port Talbot’s Welsh in Education Strategic Plan which is expected to be submitted to Welsh Government in January 2022, following an eight week consultation period, providing further opportunities for stakeholders to comment and shape the future development of the language.
It is not the case that the process has not considered the impact that the proposal could have on developing Welsh language skills in the proposed new English-medium school. Suggestions that the proposed new school should be a Welsh-medium school or should consider transitioning from an English-medium to a Welsh-medium provision have also been received. It should be noted that the proposal seeks to replace three current English-medium schools, transferring staff and pupils from existing schools to the new provision, and as a result it has to ensure that the pupils and staff who are displaced from the current schools are able to easily transition into the proposed new school. Changing the language designation of the proposed new school would create further change for the school communities, and is more likely to attract pupils who may otherwise have attended YGG Trebannws, YGG Pontardawe or YG Ystalyfera-Bro Dur (primary phase) for Welsh –medium education, meaning possible change and disruption for these schools also.
The new curriculum for Wales emphasises that language development (in Welsh or English) is based on a continuum or framework of progression. Welsh is a mandatory element meaning that in all schools there is the requirement to teach Welsh to all learners up to 16 years old , and while this is not new (Welsh was included in the national curriculum following the Education Reform Act 1988, and became a compulsory subject for all learners in Wales in Key Stages 1, 2 and 3 in 1990), the 2021 Curriculum and Assessment Act has brought about changes to delivery, removing the current distinction between two programmes of study – Welsh and Welsh second language, and allowing for one continuum of learning Welsh to be taught in all schools in Wales as part of the Languages, Literacy and Communication Area of Learning.
Alltwen, Godre’rgraig and Llangiwg primaries have traditionally taught Welsh as a second language with currently 25% of staff across the three schools being fluent or fairly fluent Welsh speakers. With the requirements of the new curriculum and the additional benefits of having a more concentrated group of Welsh speakers able to support pupil and staff language development skills through the medium of Welsh, it would appear that if the proposal progresses and the school staff are combined, then progress in Welsh language development at the proposed new school could subsequently be improved.