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Friday, July 2, 1999 Published at 13:27 GMT 14:27 UK


Welsh-medium schools chalk up half century

Around one on four children in Wales are educated in Welsh

Celebrations are taking place in Wales to mark 50 years of the establishment of a network of schools teaching in Welsh.

To mark the anniversary, members of Rhieni Dros Addysg Gymraeg, a pressure group of parents campaigning for Welsh-medium education, are carrying a relay of flaming torches throughout Wales.

They are starting from the headquarters in Aberystwyth of Urdd Gobaith Cymru, the Welsh youth movement, waved off by Prys Edwards, son of the founder of the Urdd, Sir Ifan ab Owen Edwards.

The first state-funded Welsh-medium primary school was established in Llanelli in 1947, and a network of 10 was in existence by 1949.

The state funding of teaching in Welsh was made possible by the Education Act of 1944, and marked a change in official attitudes to the language.

Before then, the education system had largely discouraged the Welsh language, a factor which contributed to a decline during the century in the numbers speaking Welsh.

The new schools, established where there was parental demand, were seen as a way of protecting and promoting the language.

Fifty years on, they have contributed to a situation in which the most recent census figures, for 1991, showed that the decline in the number of Welsh speakers had been reversed. It showed that more than half a million people could speak the language, a slight increase on the figures for 1981.

Growing sector

There are now more than 450 primary schools in which Welsh is the main or sole medium of instruction, around 27% of the total in Wales. Between 1989 and 1995, the number of pupils in such classes increased by 36% to a total of 50,327.

The growth in the primary sector has fuelled a similar growth in Welsh-medium secondary schools: around 22% of secondaries teach Welsh as both a first and second language, and in 50 secondaries, more than half the foundation subjects, excluding Welsh but including RE, are taught wholly or partly through Welsh.

Less than a year ago, Ysgol Plas Mawr was opened in Cardiff as the second Welsh-medium primary school in the Welsh capital.

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