Offering 0pen and Honest Professional Advice
Welsh Language Board Delusions - hgunn.uk
This extract from a review of what the Welsh Language Board was advised. It is unclear what qualifications that the professor had, but it illustrates that she was very poorly information and possess an alarming lack of understanding of the basic principle of teaching.
It's no surprise that the Welsh Language Board wants to push the teaching of Welsh. That's its job.
But a Straight Statistics reader in Wales wonders if it being
quite fair in the way it presents the evidence.
She recently received a survey from her local council on the provision of education, including material from the Welsh Language Board headed: "Welsh-medium education for your child: the best start possible".
This makes claims about the benefits of being taught in Welsh, including the better results achieved by pupils in Welsh-medium schools: 59 per cent passes at grades A*-C in GCSE in 2000, compared to 47 per cent in English-medium schools, and 65 per cent gaining two or more A levels in Welsh-medium secondary schools, compared to 58 per cent in English-medium schools.
But these comparisons are unfair without any reference to social deprivation. In general, English- medium schools in Wales have a more disadvantaged intake, and Welsh schools take fewer socially- deprived, immigrant and special needs children.
H.G. The problem with average is that it is proportion of all children. The individual schools in the best catchment area schools will have the highest proportion taking examinations. Socio economic status wears averages down as in Pisa.
On its website,
the top item in the section in the publications on education, children and young people is a report from the Institute of
Welsh Affairs, dating from 1998, that seeks to justify the claims of better performance by Welsh-medium schools.
The demographic data cited show just
how great the social gap
is: while 12 per cent of pupils at Welsh-medium schools had free school meals, 28 per cent of those at English-medium schools did. The level of special needs at English schools was also higher, at 3 per cent versus 2 per cent.
H.G. This makes a mockery of the comparison. The most socially deprived English speaking children in Wales are very likely to send their children to Welsh schools.
On inspection ratings, the Welsh schools did indeed do better, but most of the benefits were organisational - better discipline, attendance, and assessment, for example. There are no statistically significant differences in achievement or learning. The gap reached statistical significance in just three subjects: English and Welsh teaching, and religious education were all better at Welsh-medium schools.
The report does attempt a comparison between schools matched for intake, but in this comparison it does not include exam results, which is odd. Its conclusion is that the Welsh-medium schools are better organised and managed.
That may be so, but it hardly justifies the bold
claims made by the Welsh Language Board. Nor are its claims of the benefits of bilingualism strictly honest, either. It quotes from research from Dr Ellen Bialystok of York University in
Canada, (misprinted in the leaflet as Bialystak) in support of its claim
that children who speak two languages "are more versatile and creative, more intellectually advanced at four to five, and better at retaining abilities into old age".
H.G. This woffle. The learning potential is no equal and any valid comparison should be made with equal sample. The evidence the Board has a 'feed a duck' view of education.
That is indeed what Dr Bialystok claims, but she is talking about children bilingual from an early age, those who have learned two languages in the home, while the Welsh Language Board is claiming these benefits for children who only begin Welsh at school.
H.G. This is an extremely valid observation. Young children are given intensive one to one support to development of children's native language skills.
Here is what Dr Bialystok
says about that: "The overwhelming effect
of bilingualism in the home
is positive ... The implications for school are more
complex. Children's success in school is strongly dependent on their proficiency in the language of instruction, a relationship that holds for important linguistic abilities (eg learning to read) non-verbal computational subjects (eg mathematics) and content-based curricula (eg social studies)."
H.G. The implication for schools are more complex, but actually simple. Children will always learn more effectively in their native language.
So while genuinely bilingual children
may do well, sending children to a school where instruction
is given in a language in which they are not fluent is a different proposition.
The board also claims that 60- 75 per cent of the world is bilingual, but does
not make clear whether this means totally fluent in two or
more languages learned from birth, or partially or fully fluent by the acquisition of a second language later.
H.G. The fact children are not fluent in language, means that in pure terms they will always learn more effectively in their native language and they at the very least need to work much harder to learn through an unfamiliar language.
All this made the reader who contacted me say: "The overall impression is that monoglots will not be able to work in public bodies in Wales, will achieve less and are a minority who should be ignored. Is this true or fair?"
She was also sent a flyer sponsored by the Welsh Assembly Government with a picture of a smartly-dressed toddler on the telephone. "I speak Welsh - little man, big future" reads the caption. Welsh speakers, "Dwi'n siarad Cymraeg - dyn bach dyfol mawr", It adds: "Cymraeg - kids soak it up".
H.G. Learners do soak up language but in home environments where children are drowned it at home and school. The authors of the report were ignorant of the fact that it takes five years for the average child to develop fluency in a new language. Whatever English speaking children achieve in Welsh medium education the extent they would have done better in English medium schools is unclear.
I can't imagine it can be that easy, somehow
H.G. This what happens when people interfere in educational issues they do not understand. A major report like Bullock 1975 and Cockcroft 1982 would have been needed to establish such facts.