Welsh-medium schools are being disproportionately closed, a Welsh Conservative Assembly Member has said.
The accusation follows the release of new figures from the Welsh Labour Government which show that in spite of the fact that 32% of schools in Wales are Welsh-medium, they accounted for almost half (44%) of all school closures in Wales in the last decade.
According to the latest census (2011), 19% of the population in Wales are Welsh-speaking – equivalent to just over half a million people.
Since the academic year 2006/07, 62 Welsh-medium schools have closed their doors out of 142 school closures across Wales.
The figures were revealed after Darren Millar AM, Shadow Secretary for Education, submitted a Written Assembly Question to Alun Davies - the Minister for Lifelong Learning and Welsh - asking how many Welsh language schools had closed in the last decade.
Mr Davies’ response showed that not only have Welsh-medium schools been inordinately impacted by closures, but that traditional Welsh-speaking strongholds have been worst affected.
A table (attached) indicates that nearly a third (20) of Welsh language school closures happened in Ceredigion, 17 in Carmarthenshire, seven in Gwynedd, and five in Anglesey.
Suzy Davies AM, Welsh Conservatives’ Shadow Secretary for Welsh, said:
“Welsh schools don’t just cultivate Welsh speakers; they cultivate Welsh citizens who are linguistically agile - an advantage in a global economy. All our schools, of course, should help our young people understand our rich history and culture, but acquiring enhanced language and communication skills should be very much part of an ambitious 21st century education.
“Every Welsh-medium school closure is a backward step for the language, when the ambition is for it to thrive here in modern-day Wales.
“All alternatives must be explored by local authorities before making these terminal decisions, and the Welsh Labour Government needs to be crystal clear about its priorities. With such a strong emphasis on education being the key to a one million Welsh speakers target, it needs to help councils protect existing Welsh language schools vulnerable to closure."
Commenting, Darren Millar AM said:
“Welsh-medium schools are vital catalysts for ensuring that our ancient tongue is preserved and able to grow.
“With nearly half of these schools having been closed in the last decade, these figures demonstrate a disproportionate impact on Welsh-speaking heartlands, posing a significant threat to the future of the language.
“Every child should have the right to be taught through the medium of Welsh, but thanks to successive Welsh Labour Governments’ policies, that right is being steadily eroded.
“Big ambitions such as Labour’s one-million-speakers target must not be self-sabotaged by counterproductive decisions on the ground – a trap the Labour administration appear to be falling headfirst into.”