Category Archives: School

More on Welsh Medium Education

There’s so much stuff written about the positives of raising bilingual children – when the Husband and I were researching and discussing which route to take for our children, the messages we received were overwhelmingly positive. Better able to learn other languages, more opportunities in the employment market should they choose to remain in Wales, better results in IQ tests for bilingual children – all quoted here, and all making a very persuasive case. Looking back it was much, much easier to find positive reasons for Welsh Medium Education, than any real discussion of the potential drawbacks.

The BBC article does quote three disadvantages of Welsh Medium Education, (as opposed to nine advantages) – the first being ‘Exaggerating Weakness’ – here’s a snippet:

‘Problems may also arise in other areas of the curriculum when older children are expected to study other subjects in a language in which they are under developed or below the level demanded in curriculum activity’.

This was my biggest fear when choosing this route – that as English mother tongue speakers, my kids would not get to grips with Welsh enough to take on board everything they would be taught in later years. When I asked an experienced educational professional what would happen in this case – whether a child would be able to transfer to an English medium school fairly easily, he looked at me like I was turning into a Zygon (sorry, blogging while watching Dr Who) and said briefly and convincingly ‘That never happens. There’s absolutely no need to worry on that front. Absolutely no need at all’.

I know now that this does happen – occasionally during primary years and more often when moving from primary to secondary. But at the time, it was so emphatically said that it seemed to back up the many reasons for choosing to send my children to the local Welsh school. So I ramped up my Welsh lessons, enrolled the kids in ‘Cylch Meithrin’ (Welsh pre-school) and embraced the challenges of choosing to educate them a language that was not their – or my – mother tongue.

I suspect that this will prove to be a good decision for two of my three children. It’s early days yet for the two younger ones but my gut feeling is that they are coping well and will carry on benefiting from being educated in Welsh. It’s probably too early on for me to make a final call on this but right at this moment, the signs are good.

I am far from convinced that I’ve made the right decision for my eldest child, for exactly the reasons quoted above. He never really took to the language in the same way the younger two have, and now, although he can manage well enough in Welsh, his vocab is still quite limited – we have to look up the meaning of probably 50% of his spellings. To try and tackle this, we did a huge amount of Welsh reading over the summer, but his reading level remains plateau’d – though he has developed an interest in and enjoyment of fiction for its own sake, so it was a worthwhile exercise from that point of view. And at the recent parents evening his teacher confirmed that his language capability, while not requiring intervention yet, is a cause for concern. I suspect that difficulty in managing in Welsh is behind the fact that his enjoyment and achievement of his favourite subject, Maths, has dropped dramatically – as more difficult concepts are introduced and explained he is just not able to process them through what is effectively his second language.

I honestly do not know what to do at this point. Should I hold on tight and wait for the language to ‘click’? Knowing that already, he is missing out on full enjoyment of his favourite subject, and unless his language improves that this will continue to be the case. Or should I look at the options for moving school? This breaks my heart to consider – of the three of my kids, he is by far the least resilient and the least able to cope with such an upheaval. He has worked so hard to establish himself in his year group – (and it is work for him, as the poor bugger gets his social skills from his muppet mother) and to pull him out and start all over again – I am tearful even thinking about it.

So – a rock and a hard place, then. Pull him out from a school he is happy and settled in, but know he will be managing better going forward with academic work, or leave him where he is, knowing if he is slipping behind now that this will be magnified going forward, thus limiting his options for doing whatever he wants to do. (I don’t much care what that is by the way, I just want him to be able to do what HE wants and not have his choices reduced because I chose to educate him in a different language).

I have a plan for the moment – I am going to ask his teacher if we can drop the alternate English reading books we get sent home and receive Welsh ones every week instead. He reads English fiction of his own choice and I feel confident in my ability to carry on doing this with him at home and making sure his English is up to the standard it should be, so at this stage more school led Welsh reading seems sensible. I am also going to find out if I can access some Welsh literacy support outside school once a week – at the moment he is not quite at the level where he would qualify from in-school support but I don’t see the point in waiting until things get worse if we can head them off now.

And that’s where I am right now, but horribly aware that this time next year I will have to make a call on whether to change schools – I think this would be better to do for the final year of primary so he will have established some friends before moving to secondary school. Either way it’s going to be a massive disruption for him and not something to be taken lightly.

If you or your kids have been through this situation, I’d really appreciate your comments or messages, as I’m flailing in the dark here. Thank you/diolch!



On feeling bereft

I have just dropped my littlest boy at ysgol feithrin/nursery school for the first time. I was not expecting this to feel so weird. Yesterday I was all excited for him, and also if I am honest relishing the fact that our mornings will be much easier from now on, because they’ll all be dropped at the same place. But then last night at some point he arrived in our bed, and when I woke up this morning there was his baby face next to me, all flushed with sleep and my first thought was ‘I’m not ready for this’.

I don’t know whether he picked up on my thoughts but when he woke up, he announced that he wasn’t going to school with his brother and sister yet and he’d go when he was four instead, and even though my lovely big ones were so excited for him, helping him put on his uniform and telling him they’d wave if they saw him on the yard at playtime he still wasn’t happy. He grumbled through the obligatory ‘kids in their uniform at the front door’ picture and then was unusually quiet all the way to school.

Luckily as soon as he went inside and saw all the toys and the Ty Bach Twt and the water play he was as happy as anything; he gave me a kiss and ran off and, even though the parents had been told they could stay for a bit, I decided to leave because he seemed confident and comfortable. But of course the minute I got out of the door I had a bit of a panic – Should I have stayed? What if he wondered why all the other mums and dads were there and I wasn’t? What if he thought I had left him FOR EVER? So I hung round outside the gates pretending to chat to my friend but actually craning my neck to see if I could see him for a bit, before taking myself and my neuroses to task and heading off. And now here I am, not able to concentrate on what I’m supposed to be reading for work and counting the minutes till I pick him up.

This is COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS BEHAVIOUR on my part. He’s actually been going to nursery for two or three days a week for two years already, and he regularly goes for sleepovers at my Mum’s, so I really don’t know what this is all about. What’s more, he definitely needs to be at ysgol feithrin – as the youngest of three and also relatively old in his year group, he is more than ready for some structure and learning. I don’t know. I think it is partly the uniform thing – seeing him in his little yellow teeshirt and blue sweater just made me feel as if I had lost my baby, for ever. And instead of making the most of the fact that I have a couple of hours to get stuck into something constructive, I am sitting here looking my watch and wondering how soon I can decently arrive at the school to pick him up and spirit him home again.

I should be relishing the fact that family life is settling down and getting easier as they get bigger. I should be enjoying the (usually) unbroken nights. I should be looking forward to all the new stages that we will discover and enjoy as they grow older. But right now, try as I might, I can’t find a way to do that. I’m too sad for the days that have already gone, unappreciated and too fast. My babies are not babies any more.



On bigger being better – or not?

It’s the last day of school today. In some ways it was much like the last day of every Summer term – over excited kids, Year 6’s full of swagger on the yard with their autographed shirts, an after-school picnic in the park across the road, reflections on another year of their precious childhood having flown by. But this year things had an extra layer of poignancy – today was the last day that our kids will go to school at their current site. When they go back in September, they’ll be moving to a brand spanking new, purpose built school – a school with adventure play equipment on the yard, built in whiteboard/computer screens in every class, and – get this – targets in the urinals, which change colour upon being hit accurately! (I may just consider one of those for when we get our house done next year…)

The kids are pretty chilled about the big move now. What had been worrying them most was the fact that their classes would be split and mixed with the equivalent year group from their sister school, which is also moving to the new site. Once they’d found out which of their friends would be in their new classes, and which teachers they’d be having, they seemed reassured and, apart from grumbling about the whole seven minutes longer it’ll take us to walk, haven’t really mentioned the move since.

There are so many positive things about this move. The new building will be amazing, compared to the current tiny, overcrowded site. There’ll be all sorts of opportunities for the kids – my biggest boy is excited that he might be able to take drumming lessons which would have been an absolute no-go where they are now, because there wasn’t any room for a drum kit, and certainly nowhere that it could go without being heard in every single classroom! The school dinners will be prepared on site rather than shipped in; the kids won’t have to be bussed elsewhere for sports; there’ll be a breakfast club and after school activities on site. Best of all for us, there’ll be a new nursery unit which my littlest boy will be going to in the mornings – in practical terms alone that makes our mornings a lot easier.

All this good stuff, and yet I can’t help feeling really, really sad about the change, because despite all the new facilities and opportunities, I feel like much of the stuff that I value as a parent will be disappearing.

Mostly, it’s to do with size. I love the fact that the school is one form entry. It means all the kids know each other, all the teachers know all the kids, and it’s easy to find and get to know the parents of the kids’ friends. Everyone congregates on the tiny yard before and after school, where we can catch up, arrange playdates, find out all the stuff our own kids don’t tell us, and also speak to the class teachers informally and easily. At the end of the day it’s not unusual to see kids still playing on the yard while their parents gossip, even half an hour or so after school has finished. This feels to me like a primary school should be – a sort of small, safe stepping stone to the big wide world.

The new school will be a different story completely – with a three form entry, it’s billed to be the biggest primary school in Wales. The logistics of such a large school dictate a very different beginning and end to the school day – we’ll be dropping our kids off at one of three gates (according to their age) rather than all in one place; though there is a lovely playground, it’s not clear whether parents and younger kids will have access to it after school or whether we’ll be encouraged to simply pick up and leave; and also I imagine it is going to be much more difficult to touch base with teachers informally. It just feels as if the small, family atmosphere, that admittedly can be a bit stifling at times but is generally, I think, A Good Thing for a primary school, will be extremely hard to replicate at the new site.

I am sure that tomorrow I will wake up feeling less melancholy about all this. And I do have to keep reminding myself that none of these things which are bothering me are worrying the kids in the slightest. It’s just going to be a new way of doing things, that’ll take a bit of getting used to. I guess, as a community of parents, we can simply regroup in a different way – we might need to be a bit more creative (monthly pub night, anyone?) And I am sure there are advantages to being in a large school that aren’t yet apparent. It’s just that right now, at this very moment, I am not 100% sure that bigger will necessarily be better.