Interesting developments from North Wales. Earlier this year the council decided it would shut the Denbighshire town of Ruthin’s two primary schools and merge them into one new school. One of the schools earmarked for closure is a ‘Category One’, Welsh language school. The other school is a ‘Category Two’ dual stream Welsh/English school, where parents choose either to have their children educated in English or Welsh. Apparently, 80% of parents with children currently in this school choose the Welsh stream. The proposed merged school is also set to be a Category Two school, thus removing the possibility of Welsh only education in the town. Ruthin locals fought the merger, arguing that the Category One school is necessary to protect Welsh language.
This is interesting for a number of reasons, not least because even in an area of relatively high Welsh language use (42% in Ruthin are Welsh speakers) the perceived threat from English is obviously a worry. For me this underscores the difficulty of maintaining diverse language practices in the presence of a very dominant prestige language. If Wales (which has made enormous progress in re-envigorating Welsh language education in the past 30 years or so) is worried, one can only imagine the challenge for other minority languages.
I’d be interested in seeing evidence to help understand what sort of effect the closure of Category One schools in favour of Category Two schools has on Welsh language use. The fear articulated by opponents of the merger is that “the natural dynamic [of Category Two schools] will mean that Welsh-speaking pupils will turn to English”. Denbighshire council, on the other hand says that it believes that the Title Two school will “help generate more Welsh speakers.”
We watch with interest.
For more on Welsh language schooling in Ruthin see this post, which I wrote a while back when the head of an independent school in the area drew the ire of locals by suggesting that Welsh language schools harm the prospects of their children. By my calculations, he had his facts wrong.