A million Welsh speakers

It is unusual to say there is political consensus around anything these days but that appears to be the case regarding the Welsh Government's new strategy on the Welsh language.

There is broad consensus among opposition parties at the assembly towards the plan to double the number of Welsh speakers.

Even among local authorities - and remember half of them had their plans for future Welsh language provision rejected by the Welsh Government - I am told there is no appetite to fight the proposals.

So when Carwyn Jones says the divisions surrounding the Welsh language belong to an era of 20 years ago, at a political level he would appear to be right.

That does not mean it will be plain sailing.


The joke in local authority circles is that Welsh Government ministers turn up to open buildings but it is council leaders that have to close them.

And presumably there will have to be some tough calls to make about cutting back on English-language streams, or even English-language schools as we see a significant shift towards Welsh-medium education.

Then there is the debate about levels of demand.

A central pillar of the Welsh Government is that it is responding to increased demand for Welsh medium education.

But then the First Minister says at the same time that the target is deliberately ambitious.


The Welsh Language Minister Alun Davies talks in similarly grand terms about the scale of the target as he tries to unite people in celebration of the merits of both English and Welsh.

This kind of grand language takes it much further than the administrative sense of simply responding to what people want.

When I asked the leader of the Welsh Local Government Association Debbie Wilcox - and she supports the strategy - whether there was more demand for Welsh medium education than English language, she told me the jury was still out. Her view is that there is demand for both.

The answer to that question is obviously dependant on where the school is situated but it gives you a flavour of the kind of debates surrounding levels of demand that will be played out in communities across Wales.

The other interesting aspect of the strategy is the focus on Welsh taught in English-language schools.


It is an acknowledgement that Welsh-medium education expansion will only get the government so far if it is serious in hitting its target of 70% of school leavers being fluent by 2050.

This is where the new curriculum comes into play. Welsh being taught as a second language is being phased out because of scathing criticism from within Welsh Government circles about the level of fluency being achieved.

A new Welsh qualification will be introduced which I am told will be essentially the same if you are in a Welsh-medium or English-language school.

There is a vast difference in ability currently between these two. Unless there is significant variations built into the system, then either it will have to get a lot easier for Welsh-medium pupils, or those in English- language schools are going to have to spend a lot more time studying Welsh.

The obvious sensitivity here will be objections from pupils and parents who want to use that time studying other subjects.


There are no hard answers to that question and it will be a number of years yet before the curriculum is finalised.

A final thought: the next development is due to be next week when Alun Davies writes to the 22 local authorities effectively confirming their plans for Welsh language provision over the next few years.

These will trigger some of the early decisions. It may be a 33 year strategy but the first few years will set the tone for the rest.

Related Topics