Ysgol Dyffryn Aman in Camarthenshire has adopted an innovative and flexible approach to developing its curriculum by increasing the range of subjects and modules delivered through the medium of Welsh. This has provided pupils with more opportunities to learn through the medium of Welsh or English depending on their particular interests, needs and aspirations. These developments have increased the proportion of pupils speaking Welsh and improved standards of Welsh literacy. The Welsh language is now a prominent and inclusive feature of school life.
Number of pupils: 1577
Age range: 11-18 years
Date of Estyn inspection: October 2012
Context and background to sector-leading practice
Ysgol Dyffryn Aman is a bilingual school maintained by Carmarthenshire local authority. There are currently 1577 pupils on role. The proportion of pupils entitled to receive free school meals is 17.6 per cent. This figure is close to the national average of 17.4 per cent. Around 41% of pupils come from homes where Welsh is the main language. Approximately 49% of pupils speak Welsh as a first language. While the majority of pupils learn through the medium of English, in recent years there has been a significant increase in the amount of bilingual and Welsh-medium teaching.
The local authority’s transformation agenda highlighted the need for change in the linguistic provision at the school, so that provision was more appropriate for a bilingual community. The intention was to extend and improve the quality of learning experiences delivered through the medium of Welsh.
The school adopted an innovative approach to develop the curriculum by increasing the range of subjects taught through the medium of Welsh. The school also modified its curriculum arrangements so that there is greater flexibility for pupils to learn through the medium of Welsh or English depending on their particular interests, needs, and aspirations. While these changes have led to improvements in the curriculum,
they have also strengthened the ethos of the school by establishing the Welsh language as an inclusive and vibrant part of school life.
The school implemented these changes in partnership with partner primary schools. The school also worked closely with parents to explain the vision and objectives, and to challenge parents’ perceptions. This liaison was critical as many parents had traditionally chosen English-medium education at key stage 3.
Nature of strategy or activity identified as sector-leading practice
The strategy focused on a number of key changes. The partnership and effective communication with parents was critical to the success of the initiative. The school recognised that parents did not have a clear enough understanding of the information they received about curriculum options in Year 7. As a result, parents historically made their choices based on established perceptions rather than a secure appreciation of the information they received and the principles underpinning the curriculum developments. The school worked closely with partner primary schools to improve parents’ access to information about curriculum arrangements at the same time as broadening the range of subjects available in Welsh first language.
The school and its partner primary schools worked enthusiastically to raise parental awareness of the benefits of Welsh-medium education and the advantages of this approach for pupils and the local community.
As part of the strategy to improve pupils’ bilingual learning experiences, the school introduced a full programme to develop and extend the high-quality opportunities pupils have to write in Welsh across the curriculum. Subject departments adapted their resources mand introduced specific modules delivered through the medium of Welsh. Welsh language specialists now deliver a literacy lesson in Year 7. During these sessions, there is a clear focus on improving pupils’ writing skills and increasing their subject specific vocabulary in both English and Welsh. This is part of a clear strategy to develop pupils’ ability to use both languages to an equally high standard.
Impact on provision and learners’ standards
The school has seen significant improvements in a number of areas. For example:
- the number of pupils studying mathematics through the medium of Welsh has increased from a small group of just 14 pupils to two classes totalling 39 pupils;
- over the past five years, the number of pupils choosing to follow a curriculum that includes a minimum of 60% of courses
- in each year group delivered through the medium of Welsh has increased from 28 to 126 pupils;
- the proportion of pupils studying at least 40% of their subjects through the medium of Welsh is now 64% compared to 26% five years ago; and
- there has been a gradual increase in conversational Welsh in subjects not currently targeted as Welsh-medium options,
- including a number of vocational subjects at key stage 4.
As a result of these developments, standards in Welsh first language at key stage 3 have improved significantly during the last five years.