New publication: Welsh-medium education and Welsh as a subject

Published 04/08/2016   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

It is the Welsh Government’s policy that all pupils should study Welsh from ages 3-16, either first or second language. However, there is no legal duty on local authorities to provide Welsh-medium education.

Local authorities must have regard to the general principle that pupils are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents so far as that is compatible with the provision of efficient instruction and training and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure. The Research Briefing explains this in more detail.

Local authorities are also under a legal duty to assess the demand for Welsh-medium education in their area through their Welsh in Education Strategic Plans (WESPs).

School language categorisation

The Education Act 2002 defines a school as ‘Welsh-speaking’ if ‘More than half of the following subjects are taught wholly or partly in Welsh

  1. Religious education, and
  2. The subjects other than English and Welsh which are foundation subjects in relation to pupils at the school.’

Schools can also be categorised according to the definitions contained in 2007 Welsh Government guidance, but these categories have no basis in legislation.

School statistics by language category

According to the categories used by the Welsh Government, as of 2014/15:

  • There are 391 Welsh-medium primary schools in Wales, alongside 39 dual stream schools, 33 English schools with significant use of Welsh, and 862 English-medium schools.
  • There are 23 Welsh-medium secondary schools, 27 bilingual schools, 9 English schools with significant use of Welsh, and 148 English-medium secondary schools.

Welsh-medium Education Strategy

The Welsh Government’s 2010 Welsh-medium Education Strategy sets out six strategic aims. It also includes five-year and ten-year indicative targets, for example a target for increasing the number of seven-year-old children being taught through the medium of Welsh. The Welsh Government publishes Annual Reports on progress made against the aims set out in its strategy.

Welsh in Education Strategic Plans

Under the School Standards and Organisation (Wales) Act 2013, local authorities are required to produce a three-year Welsh in Education Strategic Plan (WESP) and submit it to Welsh Ministers for approval. These plans should include an assessment of the demand for Welsh-medium education; details of the local authority’s targets and its plans to improve the planning and standards of provision.

The Fifth Assembly

Following the Assembly election in May 2016, and the allocation of roles within the Welsh Government’s Cabinet, responsibility for the Welsh language has moved from the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, to Alun Davies. In a statement on 12 July 2016, the new Minister for Lifelong Learning and Welsh Language, Alun Davies, set out his priorities for the Welsh language over the coming year. He said he was ‘keen to revisit the process of planning for Welsh-medium education’ to ensure ‘concrete and timely action’ leading to the growth of Welsh-medium education.

The Minister said he was also committed to implementing the priorities set out by the Welsh Government in March 2016 on the ‘next steps’ for the Welsh-medium education strategy.

Welsh-medium education research briefing(PDF, 688KB)


Article by Megan Jones, National Assembly for Wales Research Service