Demand for Welsh Medium on Increase; SUCCESS STORY: English-Speaking Parents Are Turning to Bilingualism for Their Children to Improve Chances of Getting Jobs

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Byline: COLIN HUGHES

PARENTS who do not speak Welsh are increasingly investing in a bilingual education for their children because they know it makes sound economic sense, says Eurig Davies.

His comments come as a tremendous boost to Welsh Learners Week - and he should know.

As head teacher of the highly acclaimed Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera, he has seen the school almost double in size until it is now oversubscribed.

"Since 1993 we have gone from a roll of 700 pupils to more than 1,100 now - and what this indicates is that demand for Welsh medium education is extremely high in the old West Glamorgan area, " says Mr Davies.

Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera is the only secondary school serving the county borough of Neath Port Talbot, which helps to explain why children are bused in every day from a wide area extending to the top of the Afan Valley.

The popularity - and increasing success - of the school explains, too, why the local education authority is being pressured to establish another Welsh medium comprehensive, perhaps in the Port Talbot area.

Mr Davies says, "A lot of children are bused here from Neath and Port Talbot and the Afan Valley and in this day and age this is clearly not satisfactory.

"I have suggested that another school should be provided in the eastern part of the county borough in order to cut the travelling time.

"Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera is an excellent school and because of its all round success we do tend to draw customers. This is why there does seem to be a need for some forward planning because of the growth of the Welsh schools' movement in this area.

"Non Welsh-speaking parents in particular are investing increasingly in Welsh medium education because they see it as an advantage: more and more jobs are being advertised for applicants with bilingual qualifications.

"In fact, almost 90pc of our children come from non Welshspeaking homes - and they do very well.

"Last summer, for example, 73pc of them secured five or more subjects at GCSE with grades of A* to C, with 99pc of all grades being A* to G. At A-level 73pc of all grades were A-C.

"Parents are investing in a bilingual education because they know it makes sense - sound, economic sense, that is. They see it as being an advantage to their children for the future: with two languages the youngsters can go into various jobs in Wales."

Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera may be one of the oldest Welsh medium comprehensives, but it has swept all before it with an academic record that is second to none.

The school is over subscribed simply because of its academic reputation. It is the school to which all parents in the area aspire to send their children.

Its growth has been phenomenal and by 1984 pupil numbers were such that a sister school was established at Ysgol Gyfun Gwyr in Gowerton to ease the pressure on Ystalyfera.

Demand for Welsh medium provision in the old West Glamorgan area is still "substantial and increasing - similar to the demand in Cardiff and East Glamorgan some 25-30 years ago, " says Mr Davies.

"We haven't turned anyone away but there has certainly been an upsurge of interest and we are reaping the benefits of investing in Welsh medium education, " he says.

"The educational package pupils get in this school is second to none. The academic results are consistently excellent and the extra curricular activities are also varied and numerous. …