Language skills ‘on pause’ during COVID - report

03 August 2023

Some school children felt that their Welsh-language skills were “on pause” during the COVID pandemic, according to research by Aberystwyth and Bangor Universities.

The research explored the experiences of learners in Welsh-medium education who were from non-Welsh speaking families, and the perceptions of their parents during the public health emergency, particularly in the transition from primary to secondary school.

As part of the study, pupils and their families were interviewed about their experiences of home learning during COVID.

The research was supported by the Wales COVID-19 Evidence Centre, which is funded by Health and Care Research Wales on behalf of the Welsh Government.

In the report, the research team quote one pupil, whose words they felt described the general experiences of all the families interviewed, and highlighted the lack of opportunity to engage actively and use the Welsh language during lockdown: “In my opinion it (developing Welsh language skills) was a bit on pause... we didn’t really use it that much.”

Dr Siân Lloyd Williams, Lecturer in Education at Aberystwyth University was one of the lead investigators.  Shesaid:

“It is well known that the COVID-19 pandemic, with its lockdowns and school closures, caused significant upheaval to people’s lives. Previous research has shown that the lack of exposure to the Welsh language during the pandemic was particularly problematic for pupils who attended Welsh-medium schools, but lived in a home where the primary language was a language other than Welsh.

“Our research gathered the views and pandemic experiences of such pupils and their parents, to determine the impact that the lack of exposure to Welsh and fewer opportunities to use the language, had on the pupils’ Welsh language skills.” 

The research findings identify the value of strengthening the links between primary and secondary settings to ease the transition process.  They also underline the importance of assessing pupils’ Welsh language skills between key stages - for example, when transitioning from primary to secondary school – to identify any support required. 

The study also stresses the importance of ensuring effective communication between home and school, and making use of bilingual communication - for example, providing lists of key terminology that would aid parents in accessing and understanding feedback. 

The importance of increasing extra-curricular opportunities to use the Welsh language within and outside of school, is also highlighted.

Dr Siân Lloyd Williams said: “Our research findings identify a number of key policy and practice implications relevant to the Welsh Government, Local Education Authorities and to schools, which will help them to identify areas for support in order to ensure all pupils are able to develop their Welsh language skills to the best of their ability.”

An overview of the key findings of the report, which was led by academics from Aberystwyth University’s School of Education and the School of Educational Sciences at Bangor University, will be presented as part of a research showcase on Aberystwyth University’s stand at the National Eisteddfod in Boduan on Monday 7 August 2023, between 11am and 12pm.