Welsh second language comes first

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Welsh second language comes first

Standards in Welsh second language at Plascrug C.P. School, Ceredigion, are excellent, despite less than 1% of pupils coming from homes where Welsh is the main language. The school gives high priority to preparing pupils to become part of a bilingual society promoting strongly the use of incidental Welsh. Many staff have benefited from a range of courses and classes which have helped them to improve their bilingual skills and teach more effectively through the medium of Welsh.

Number of pupils: 422
Age range: 3-11 years
Date of Estyn inspection: June 2012

Context and background to sector-leading practice

Ysgol Plascrug is situated in the town of Aberystwyth which lies on the coast of Ceredigion. Approximately three-quarters of the pupils are white British while a quarter of pupils are from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds, originating from 38 different countries. Less than 1% of the pupils come from homes where Welsh is the main language. Thirty-five per cent of pupils live in disadvantaged areas and approximately 12% are entitled to Free School meals.

English is the main medium of teaching. Nearly all pupils learn Welsh as a second language. For many minority ethnic pupils, Welsh is a third or even fourth language for them to acquire. The school’s provision and comprehensive professional development programme for all staff in the development of Welsh is judged as sector leading. As a result, pupils’ standards in Welsh second language are deemed excellent.

The school has a firm, clear vision to prepare pupils to become inclusive members of the bilingual society of Wales and nurture pride in the language, heritage and culture of our country. The introduction of the Foundation Phase curriculum also highlighted the need to improve pupils’ bilingual skills at a very early age.

Description of nature of strategy or activity

This vision is shared with all staff and over recent years has become a high priority in the school improvement plan. In order to fulfill the vision of creating fully bilingual pupils in a natural Welsh ethos, the school is committed to offering excellent provision to its pupils and exceptional opportunities for staff to improve their professional skills in Welsh language provision.

As part of the school’s strategy for raising standards in Welsh, the school improvement plan gives particular emphasis to the continuing professional development of staff. The governing body and senior management team promote strongly the recruitment of committed Welsh speakers and/or learners for teaching, support and administrative roles within the school.

Teaching staff, wishing to improve Welsh oracy skills, have attended sabbatical courses to extend their skills in teaching through the medium of Welsh. These members of staff are are now all fluent Welsh speakers and are voluntarily undertaking further Welsh lessons to enhance their skills. They now promote good practice and offer helpful guidance and support to colleagues and are exemplary role models for visiting practitioners. Numerous support staff have also attended Welsh Government sabbatical courses to improve their oracy skills in order to converse simply with pupils in the Foundation Phase. The school releases staff regularly to attend Welsh language courses at the local university.

A particularly popular weekly gathering for learners is funded directly by the school. This is a fun, oracy-based session where staff enjoy conversing wholly in Welsh, in a non-threatening learning environment, supported by an enthusiastic and entertaining tutor. These lessons have helped staff increase dramatically their confidence in speaking Welsh.

The Athrawes Fro service provides effective support for Welsh language development on a weekly basis. It complements a team-teaching approach and offers helpful guidance on planning and resources. This allows the school to implement a ‘target group’ teaching approach at key stage 2.

The Welsh coordinator has a pivotal role in planning and integrating the teaching of Welsh. The governing body recognises the benefits of releasing this member of staff to model good teaching approaches, monitor planning, provision and standards, and provide suitable resources and appropriate guidance and support to colleagues. The enthusiasm and passion of the coordinator is evident as Welsh is increasingly becoming the everyday informal language of the school.

What impact has this work had on provision and learners’ standards?

As a result of extensive and continuous staff training, the use of incidental Welsh has increased greatly.

Throughout the school, Welsh has now become the natural medium of communication and informal conversations between staff and pupils.

In recent years, the school has focused upon developing bilingualism in the Foundation Phase. Welsh is now used as a medium of teaching for 40% of the timetable. As this progresses throughout the school, there is a direct impact on standards in Welsh and at key stage 2, pupils are able to access more subjects through the medium of Welsh. For example, physical education, art, design and technology and music can now be taught through the medium of Welsh.

In 2012, as a result of prioritising bilingualism in the Foundation Phase, 85% of pupils achieved Outcome 5+ in Welsh second language.

The school can now offer pupils a realistic choice of bilingual secondary education as they enter key stage 3 and parents realise the benefits of their children being bilingual in our community.