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Welsh immersion education

Strategies and approaches to support 3 to 11-year-old learners

In February 2022, we published our thematic report on Welsh immersion education. Our report draws on visits to a sample of non-maintained settings, primary schools, and language immersion centres. We also spoke to pupils, teachers, local authority and regional consortium officers, and gained the views of parents via a questionnaire. We considered two forms of Welsh language immersion: early immersion and late immersion.

Early immersion means introducing and using the Welsh language as the only language of teaching (with very few exceptions) in the foundation phase in Welsh‑medium and bilingual non‑maintained settings and schools. In the best practice, this means that the Welsh language is introduced purposefully to learners in specific language sessions, in addition to providing frequent opportunities for them to acquire and apply their Welsh language skills through rich experiences both inside and outside the classroom.

Late immersion means provision for learners who join Welsh-medium schools or Welsh streams in bilingual schools who have not experienced a full period of early immersion in the Welsh language. These learners can be complete newcomers to the Welsh language or be re-engaging with Welsh-medium provision. In the strongest cases, late immersion provision is an intensive and structured programme.

Our recommendations

Non-maintained settings and schools should:

  1. Build on effective practice and plan a range of consistent activities that provide opportunities for learners to acquire vocabulary and syntactical patterns purposefully and coherently

Local authorities and regional consortia should:

  1. Plan purposefully to ensure equal opportunities for all learners to access early and late immersion provision
  2. Evaluate immersion provision thoroughly, including tracking latecomers’ progress consistently over time
  3. Strengthen and ensure consistency in the professional learning offer on the principles and methods of immersion education for all practitioners

The Welsh Government should:

  1. Develop national guidelines on early immersion and late immersion, and commission a range of suitable resources for learners of all ages to support immersion education that celebrate the diversity of Wales
  2. Establish a national forum to promote the most effective immersion education practices, including promoting local arrangements to introduce vocabulary and syntactical patterns

What did our thematic survey say?

Immersion education is the primary method used by nearly all local authorities to create new Welsh speakers and develop learners’ Welsh language skills. We found that leaders in non-maintained settings, Welsh-medium primary schools, bilingual schools, and language immersion centres prioritise immersion education effectively. They provide rich experiences for learners in an inclusive and Welsh learning environment.

We found that most leaders in local authorities plan suitable strategies to enable practitioners to use early immersion methods as an integral part of foundation phase provision. Around half of the local authorities support latecomers into Welsh-medium education in language immersion centres that deliver late immersion provision. The most effective late immersion provision is offered through intensive programmes. This means that practitioners nurture learners’ Welsh language skills in small groups for most of the time for an extended period. Most practitioners in language immersion centres provide highly successful immersion programmes that stimulate learners effectively. As provision for latecomers is so inconsistent across Wales, not all learners are given the same opportunities to access Welsh-medium education at an early enough stage.

In the best practice, authorities and consortia provide valuable opportunities for practitioners to develop their understanding of immersion principles and approaches and share effective practice. However, professional learning opportunities do not have a consistent enough impact on improving provision to support learners to acquire Welsh language skills through the immersion process.

Nearly all practitioners support learners effectively by creating a supportive learning environment. Practitioners support learners to feel increasingly confident in trying to speak Welsh without fear of failure. In the strongest cases, they provide a variety of experiences that envelop learners in the Welsh language. However, a minority of practitioners do not introduce vocabulary and syntactical patterns purposefully enough to ensure continuity and progression when supporting learners to develop their speaking skills.

Nearly all learners demonstrate positive attitudes to learning Welsh during the immersion education process. As a result of early immersion in the foundation phase, most learners develop their Welsh language skills well, and this supports them to make further progress across the areas of learning in Key Stage 2. Most learners who complete intensive late immersion programmes attain a suitable level of proficiency to succeed in Welsh-medium education.