More than four fifths of children aged 3 to 7 years old are making good progress in learning Welsh as a first language in Welsh-medium schools and non-maintained settings, according to a report published today by Estyn. Standards in pupils’ language, literacy and communication skills are similar to those in English-medium schools and settings, and are line with the expected level at that age.
The new report, Welsh in the Foundation Phase, considers standards in developing language in Welsh-medium schools and settings taking into account whether pupils come from a Welsh-speaking home or not. It also considers the balance between formal language development and informal activities which is a core part of the Foundation Phase approach to teaching and learning.
Ann Keane, Chief Inspector, says,
“The Foundation Phase is a vital part of developing young children’s skills in speaking, reading and writing in Welsh. We have found that the rate at which children acquire Welsh language skills is affected by whether or not children are learning alongside others who share similar backgrounds in home language. Our report shows that in classes with mixed linguistic backgrounds, children from non-Welsh speaking homes sometimes progress too slowly and the progress of pupils from Welsh-speaking homes can be hindered.
“I urge headteachers, practitioners, leaders and managers to read our report and use its recommendations in order to help to ensure that the Foundation Phase establishes a sound basis for Welsh-medium education.”
Inspectors found that pupils’ speaking and listening skills are strong in the majority of Welsh-medium schools and settings. Three to four-year-olds talk to each other and their teachers increasingly well. They also enjoy reading and listening to stories. However, pupils’ writing skills are not developing as well. In a minority of schools, pupils at the end of the Foundation Phase are over-reliant on support and guidance from their teachers. Written work is not always at an age-appropriate standard.
The learning environment in most settings and many schools offers children a good balance between informal first-hand experience and focused activities on developing language, literacy and communication skills. Teachers and practitioners give a firm priority to developing children’s Welsh language skills, across the areas of learning within the Foundation Phase.
In a few schools, leaders and teachers do not show enough understanding of the Foundation Phase and they see a tension between its approach and the need to plan purposefully to develop language and literacy skills. As a result, some pupils are unable to apply their language skills successfully across a range of contexts.
The report contains six case studies of good practice. In Ysgol Feithrin Rhydaman, Carmarthenshire, the majority of pupils come from non-Welsh-speaking homes. The school has created a permanent role-play area which regularly changes theme. When it is set up as a hospital, children use resources such as a telephone, computer, uniforms and vocabulary cards to help them to play different roles. The children enjoy playing and can recall and use the new Welsh words they learn easily and accurately.
A number of recommendations for schools, settings, local authorities, organisations which manage non-maintained settings and the Welsh Government are set out in the report. These include developing opportunities for pupils to develop and use their language skills across areas of learning; ensuring a balance between formal and informal learning; developing learning activities that ensure pupils from different linguistic backgrounds make appropriate progress; and providing support and training for practitioners on immersion methods of language learning.
About the report
Estyn’s report Welsh in the Foundation Phase was commissioned by the Welsh Assembly Government and is available in full he.
The evidence base of the report includes:
Visits to five non-maintained settings and 18 primary schools;
Inspections of around 80 Welsh-medium primary schools and 70 non-maintained settings inspected 2011-2012;
Discussions with Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin; and
Analysis of teacher assessment data at the end of the Foundation Phase 2012.
Best practice case studies
Ysgol Gynradd Gynraeg Nantcaerau, Cardiff
Ysgol Feithrin Rhydaman, Carmarthenshire
Ysgol Saron, Carmarthenshire
Cylch Meithrin Bro Elfed, Carmarthenshire
Ysgol Gymraeg Dafydd Llwyd, Powys