English pupils will have to learn Welsh

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HUNDREDS of pupils from England will have to learn Welsh this year, because their parents opted to send them to school in border towns in Wales.

The Welsh Office has ended a dispensation that exempted three comprehensive schools from a 1991 national curriculum requirement to teach Welsh. Lessons must start in September. But the schools - in Monmouth, Caldicot and Chepstow - are in areas where fewer than 1 per cent speak Welsh, and between them they take several hundred children from over the border in Gloucestershire and Herefordshire.

The Welsh Office is now being urged to change the ruling to allow Welsh to be an optional subject in those schools. For there are fears that some parents will withdraw their children, affecting the finances of the three schools.

At Monmouth Comprehensive, about 300 children come from England. "We are an area where well under 1 per cent speak Welsh," said the headteacher, David Every. "There is parental concern that most of our students and parents are English, and 25 per cent come from across the border. I think we should be teaching Welsh but that it should be optional and it is sad that it is being imposed."

At Caldicot, headteacher John Norwood said: "We are really an English area. Many of the parents commute to Bristol to work, and don't want their children to learn Welsh; they don't see it as a great advantage and they don't want to lose time from core subjects.

"Parents have made representations and we are arguing the case for making Welsh optional. We have offered it at GCSE in the past and had no takers."

Gwent education chairman Anita Lloyd said: "The policy now in Wales is that all children have to learn Welsh, but four years ago these schools that take a lot of children from Gloucestershire were given more time by the then Secretary of State.

"A stiff letter was sent out by the Welsh Office, and the heads and chairmen of the governors at the schools in Chepstow, Monmouth and Caldicot met at the Welsh Office. They have been told they must take action and all three have to start Welsh lessons in September."

She said it was not known what effect the decision would have on parents from across the border. "In one of the schools there are 300 children coming from Gloucestershire, so large numbers are involved, and some parents oppose the idea and are very unhappy."

It is estimated that the costs of implementation in the three schools will be about pounds 100,000 a year.