Saturday, 21 January 2017


Update 25 January

Most county councillors are also school governors almost by default. If a school is fortunate, it will land a hard-working, conscientious and knowledgeable councillor who will work with parents and staff to ensure that the school is a success. Others will find that they have a dud foisted on them.

It turns out that Labour's Kim Thomas, who last week made highly inflammatory remarks about Welsh medium education and showed an almost total lack of understanding of how schools work and children learn, is in fact - wait for it - a governor of the Welsh medium Ysgol Cross Hands.

As she was catapulted in as an LEA appointment, there is very little that parents or staff can do to get shot of a governor whose inability to grasp how primary schools work and whose views run completely against the school's ethos, although they may want to lodge a formal complaint with the council for starters.

For the school's sake, we can only hope that Cllr Thomas is as active as a governor as she is as a county councillor.

Update 23 January

Interesting to note that Labour's two youngest councillors, Calum Higgins and Ryan Thomas, broke ranks with Kevin Madge, Tegwen Devichand and the rest of the dinosaurs and dunces to vote in favour of the Llangennech proposal.


Mrs Helena Jones of Brecon was 99 years old when she took to the stage of the National Eisteddfod for the last time in 2016. Although her father spoke Welsh, her mother did not, and Helena grew up in an English speaking home.

When she was 90, her doctor advised her to learn a new language and a musical instrument. So she bought a harp and started going to Welsh classes. As you can see from this interview, recorded when she was just 97, her enthusiasm is infectious.

"Two windows on the world are better than one", she says.

After the best part of two years of rows, consultations and miles of red tape, Carmarthenshire County Council has finally approved plans to create a single Welsh-medium primary school in Llangennech, which means that all the children in the village will in future have two windows on the world if their parents don't yank them out of the school.

There were very strong feelings on both sides of the argument, and it is important to emphasise that there were indeed supporters and opponents of the proposal.

Llangennech is not the first community to go through this process, and it will not be the last. A pattern seems to be emerging whenever there are proposals to change the language category of a school, with very vocal groups of objectors grabbing the headlines, aided and egged on by some very extreme political elements and claiming to speak for everyone, while supporters keep a much quieter and less confrontational profile.

Some pretty stupid things were said during the campaign as it dragged on and on, but we had to wait until the dying moments, just minutes before the final vote, to hear the dummest contribution of all.

Step forward Cllr Kim Thomas (Lab., Llannon). Cllr Thomas has hardly left a mark in her years as county councillor and rarely takes an active part in council meetings. On the basis of her remarks on Wednesday, we can be grateful for that at least.

What about children starting school in Llangennech who have no Welsh, she asked. How are they going to be able to participate in the lessons when they don't understand the language?

She might just as well have asked how young children could be expected to read, write or do mathematics in school when they have not learned those skills at home before starting school.

The answer to that is that just like thousands of other children from non-Welsh speaking homes who go to Welsh medium schools, they learn, and they learn incredibly quickly.

But Cllr Thomas was only just getting into her stride. "This is segregation, and at its worst we are looking at apartheid". And she was not going to apologise for saying that.

Perhaps some of the older Labour councillors should try to explain to Kim Thomas what apartheid was.

At present, children in Llangennech are divided into streams. Most readers will know what that means, but for Kim Thomas's benefit, it means that children are separated within the same school and go to different classes with different teachers. That is divisive in itself and tends to create a "them and us" culture within schools. The proposal before her was to eliminate the division and create a school in which all children sit and learn together.

"This is my opinion, and I have the right to say it", she added, proudly wrapping herself in the flag of her own Ukip-lite ignorance and basking in the glow of a ripple of applause from the objectors seated behind her.

"I went to a Welsh school", she continued, explaining that she had the right to take some (most by the sound of it) subjects in English.

Clearly, it was not a Welsh medium school, and the irony that she delivered her entire rant in English was lost on her. As some readers may by now have realised, Kim Thomas was talking about her experiences at secondary school and superimposing them on a debate about a primary school. She appeared not to know the difference.

Let's hope for the sake of parents and children in Llannon that Kim Thomas is not a school governor. In the case of most councillors, it would be easy to find out because the information is recorded in their annual reports. Kim Thomas has never got around to writing hers.

At length, the matter was put to the vote. 38 councillors voted in favour of the change, including to his credit Calum Higgins (Lab). 20 voted against, although all of them voted a couple of years ago in favour of the policy now being pursued by the council. That includes Kevin Madge, who also voted against the policy of his own government in Cardiff. There was one abstention.

That means that 15 councillors did not vote. Some, like Meryl Gravell were absent (yet again); others seem to have been struck dumb. From the Labour benches the temptation to play politics with the language was obviously too strong for most to resist; where there should have been leadership and influence to ensure a calm and well-informed debate, we saw dog-whistle politics.

The vote was recorded, so the minutes should show exactly how everybody voted. It is not possible to tell from the webcast.

One thing which both sides could probably agree on is the need to reform the truly awful statutory process which has to be followed each and every time a change is proposed. The effect of the process is to draw out and delay change for years, delays which serve only to deepen divisions in places such as Llangennech and create lingering uncertainty for children, staff and parents alike.

There is no doubt that parents who opposed the plans were sincere, even if some of them lost the plot during the course of their protests. Part of the problem is that past fudges and policy errors mean that words such as "bilingual" can mean very different things to different people.

Just as as happened elsewhere, it is a fair bet that in a couple of years from now everyone will wonder what the fuss was all about. For the sake of the school and the children, it is important that everyone puts the dispute behind them.

One of Llangennech's former residents, the indefatigable and courageous Eileen Beasley, a pioneer for women's rights and the Welsh language, would be proud of the decision her old council took last Wednesday.


Anonymous said...

It was a recorded vote so you can name those who voted for the proposal& those against

Cneifiwr said...

Exactly, as the post points out. The trouble was that a good many of the councillors' responses were not audible on the webcast. We'll have to wait a week or two to find out.

Cneifiwr said...

To Anon (J. Jones among other fake names?) - you have peddled this stuff over and over again on all sorts of different platforms, and you've had your say on this blog more than once. Not this time. Try Glasnost.

m1books said...

BBC news 17/1/17 - "Fears have been raised that a lack of new teachers in Welsh-medium schools is putting some subjects at risk. Figures show the number of students completing secondary teacher training through the medium of Welsh almost halved in the past three years. One head teacher claimed some subjects, including maths, science and English, were in "crisis"." So you might be able to start them off at 5 but continuing academic excellence for 11-18?? Not looking so great...

lionel said...

So if you're standing in Llannon in the upcoming council elections then you already have some great ammunition to use against the incumbent!

Cneifiwr said...

Thanks M1books. It is certainly a problem which needs to be tackled, although the situation will vary from area to area. I know several teachers in this area who have to travel a very long way to work, nothing being available to them here.

There is a sabbatical scheme which gives intensive training to teaching staff to improve their linguistic skills, but it seems only to be available to primary school teachers.

If anyone knows more about this, your contributions would be welcome.

Anonymous said...

I understand that Cllrs. Ryan Bartlett and Ryan Thomas supported the proposal from the Labour benches as well as Cllr. Calum Higgins.

Anonymous said...

Kim Thomas' outburst could be construed as a cse of 'inciting racial hatred'. There are laws to deal with that kind of thing.

Anonymous said...

A large number of the Independent Group also supported the proposal , It seems labour were swimming against the tide

Anonymous said...

These days Labour are always swimming against the tide. Let's hope they run into a tsunami soon, and disappear below to Davy Jones' Locker!

The Furred Fiend said...

A FOX WRITES: Apparently Kim Thomas is most miffed at her unfortunate words being picked over.
Poor Kimbo.
Tee hee

Cneifiwr said...

Hello Fox. Perhaps some of her friends should have taken her to one side and advised her not to break the vow of silence she has maintained since being elected. Too late now.

Wouldn't it be interesting to be a fly on the wall at the next governors' meeting in Cross Hands?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Cneifiwr said...

To Anon@16.31 Thank you for submitting your comment. For the benefit of other readers, the piece contained serious allegations about the bullying of one county councillor by two Labour county councillors in Llanelli using confidential health records.

If there is solid proof in the form of written records, recordings, etc., this blog will return to the subject, but publishing the comment without firm evidence could give rise to an action for defamation.

Anonymous said...

Factual Information supplied i believe by three persons .