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Welsh history teaching more miss than hit



A SENEDD Committee heard frustrations from teachers, history societies, pupils and academics that children do not know the story of their community or country.
The Senedd’s Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee heard children often commented they learnt more Welsh history in a Welsh language lesson than from their history teacher.
With a new curriculum on the horizon, the Committee also heard concerns there is a danger the new and less prescriptive curriculum’s development is happening without a good understanding of what is currently taught in schools.
Dr Elin Jones told the Committee “we don’t know the basis upon which we will be building for this new curriculum. We don’t know what teachers are making out of the current curriculum.”

Many who gave evidence to the Committee made clear that the picture is patchy across Wales and the extent to which Welsh history is taught varies from school to school. There is also a concern that there is not a clear understanding of the content and standard of current history teaching in our schools.
The Committee is calling on the Welsh Government to request that Estyn carry out a review of the teaching of Welsh history in schools. Only once there is robust evidence and an understanding of current teaching can assessments be made to inform the new Curriculum for Wales 2022.

For Welsh history to be taught effectively in schools, teachers need training and resources. The Committee believes the Curriculum for Wales 2022 should be properly supported with teaching materials which reflect the ambition to teach the history of Wales from a local and national perspective. It recommends the Welsh Government ensures such resources are widely available.
From the experts who gave evidence, the Committee heard examples of Welsh history that should be taught, including the laws of Hywel Dda and the schools of Griffith Jones. Some believed the new curriculum should have a list of ‘must-haves’, i.e. topics all the pupils in the country need to be taught so they have a rounded knowledge of the events that have formed modern-day Wales.

During summer 2018, the Committee ran a public poll, inviting members of the public to select from a list of potential topics for the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee to look at.
Nearly 2,500 people participated in the poll. 44% voted for “Teaching of Welsh history, culture and heritage in schools”.
Since then the Committee has been looking at how Welsh history is currently taught and what the Welsh Government’s new Curriculum for Wales 2022 means for future teaching of it.
Aled James, Assistant Head Teacher at Ysgol Gyfun Plasmawr in Cardiff, who teaches history commented on the findings: “I’m pleased to see the Committee has looked at this issue. It’s essential that all pupils in Wales have a similar experience of Welsh history and there’s consistency. I think the Committee’s call for a thematic review of the teaching of Welsh history is a good idea so that we get an overview of where we are regarding the teaching of our nation’s history. It is a chance for ESTYN to highlight the strengths and bring attention to the situation across History departments in Wales.”
“We know that some schools are doing some good work in this area and I hope we can share best practice to make sure that all students across Wales should leave with a basic level of Welsh history knowledge.”
“To equip students well for the next stage in their education there should be a focus on local history, taught in a national and international context. It should also cover the diverse population of Wales and look at the history of all races and religions that make up our country.
“Although the new curriculum in 2022 should free up schools to teach according to their needs, I think the new curriculum should have some suggested key events in Welsh history but not be too narrowly focused.
“I agree that teacher training would need to be addressed but I think if we look at schools first and identify any gaps in Welsh history teaching then training gaps could be addressed as more of this training is focussed in schools now.”

Bethan Sayed, Chair of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee said: “Teaching Welsh history has to feature in our children’s education – for too long young people have gone through the education system without really learning about the story of their community or country.
“With a new curriculum on the horizon, our inquiry has shed light on the inconsistency across Wales and some of the reasons why Welsh history isn’t featuring as it should. We heard many reasons such as the lack of teaching materials and the need for teacher training.
“There is good practice in some schools and I believe there is a lot of public support for improving the way we teach Welsh history to our children. We’re calling for the Welsh Government to review the level of Welsh history teaching in our schools. Only when we fully understand the picture of Welsh history teaching can we put measures in place to ensure that teachers get the support and materials they need.
“We believe that teaching should also reflect the diverse population of Wales – histories of Wales’ racial and religious diversity should be included in teacher training and reflected in teaching materials.
“I’m grateful to those who took part in our public poll and asked us to look at the teaching of Welsh history and to those who gave evidence to the inquiry. Our report urges the Welsh Government to take seriously the need for our history and cultural heritage to be taught to the next generation.”

In the nineteenth century and for most of the twentieth, British History was treated as though it were the history of England. This approach was a reflection of the political project of the ‘creation, survival and modification of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland’ between the Industrial Revolution and the Partition of Ireland.
History was taught as if it was a process of continuous progression. Everything moved towards UK’s creation because that was the irresistible motor of history. From serfdom to feudalism, to the over-mighty subject, to absolutism, to a republic, and then constitutional monarchy, followed by the glory of the empire. Along the journey were the waymarkers: The Domesday Book, Magna Carta, the Reformation, the Civil War, Restoration, Glorious Revolution, followed by the Victorian zenith and the empire upon which the sun never set.
English history enshrined romantic nationalistic exceptionalism. That view of history was enshrined by popular historical writers such as Sir Arthur Bryant, who churned out flowery prose in books with titles such as Set in a Silver Sea: A History of Britain and the British People, Vol 1 and the equally execrable Vol 2, Freedom’s Own Island.
History curricula helped promote the idea of the inevitability of political union and the triumph of England. It rendered other British histories less relevant and – crucially – inferior.
As recently as 2015, the WJEC history course taught in Welsh schools was only 10-15% Welsh history.
Llewellyn Fawr and Llewellyn ap Gruffudd were bit players in history teaching and reference to Owain Glyndwr came more often in Shakespeare’s history plays than in history classes. After that, a bit more about Henry VII being born in Pembroke Castle, the Bible in Welsh, the SPCK, non-conformism, and mining. And that was, more or less, it.
Peculiarly, Wales celebrates its national history by reference to the history of its conquerors and the remains of Welsh subjugation. Pembrokeshire was/is ‘the County of Castles’; Caernarvon Castle was important because of the investiture of the Prince of Wales; the monuments to oppression dot the landscape – and are celebrated.
The way the Welsh Government has the remnants of conquest at the centre of its tourism strategy underlines the difficulties faced by trying to look at the Welsh past from a Welsh viewpoint.

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Positive PISA results welcomed



WALES’ Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams has welcomed the nation’s significant improvement in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study.
PISA is a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in member and non-member nations intended to evaluate educational systems by measuring 15-year-old school pupils’ scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and reading in PISA.
The PISA assessment is regarded, with some misgivings among educational experts, as a guide to education policies’ performance across 79 participating countries.
For the first time since Wales began participating separately in the PISA studies, Wales has caught up with the international average in all subjects. The results record Wales’ best ever scores in reading and maths and improvement in science
Kirsty Williams said: “For the first time, Wales is in the international mainstream, thanks to the efforts of our teachers and students.
“We have caught up, we are continuing to improve in all areas and, as a nation, we must be determined to keep up this momentum.
“This is positive for teachers, parents and students and the nation as a whole, but not perfect.
“We can go further still.”
Following the 2015 results, the Education Minister set a challenge to improve the proportion of top-performing learners.
The number of high performing students in reading rose from 3% in 2015 to 7% in 2018, with a 4% to 7% increase in maths and a 4% to 5% increase in science.
Wales saw an improvement in its ranking compared to other participating nations.
Kirsty Williams added: “Today’s news is positive for our young people and education system. We are continuing to improve in all areas and we’ve got more top performers than ever before.
“Our increase in high-performers is a big step forward. It’s a culture change for Wales. But there’s still more to do, as we’re not quite at the OECD average for this aspect yet.
“Not only have our overall scores gone up, but we’ve also reduced the attainment gap. We can be proud that in Wales we truly partner equity with excellence.
“We are heading in the right direction with our reforms. Our National Mission has charted the right course. The OECD is telling us to move forward with confidence.
“That’s why we are delivering the biggest ever investment in our teachers, have developed the biggest ever professional learning programme and are striding ahead with our new curriculum.”
UCAC, the Welsh education union, has called for all concerned to make wise use of the data.
Dilwyn Roberts-Young, UCAC General Secretary said “This year’s PISA results provide a wealth of information about various aspects of our education system. The headlines are comparatively encouraging – and everyone concerned is to be congratulated on that. However, we must be careful to go beyond the headlines.
“It appears that some of the reforms that have already been implemented are beginning to pay off. But we must remember that the major reforms to the curriculum, assessment arrangements and accountability systems have yet to be put in action. We now need to concentrate on effectively implementing those reforms over the coming years if they are to help us on our journey towards improving education for all in Wales.
“The report draws attention to concerns about pupils’ wellbeing – with higher than average levels being reported of feeling miserable or worried. Also, schools in Wales were more likely to report that insufficiencies of physical resources – especially textbooks and ICT equipment – were hampering their efforts.
“UCAC strongly believes that we need to keep to the reform route that we have set, whilst ensuring sufficient levels of funding, resources and time for teachers. Alongside those reforms, we need to continue and expand our efforts to support the wellbeing of everyone within our school communities.”
Commenting on the results in Wales in the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Eithne Hughes, Director of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) Cymru, said: “PISA results have not been kind to Wales in the past, and this latest set of results is a real boost at a time when we are introducing a transformational new curriculum in Wales. We are delighted that performance in maths has continued an upward trend and with the recognition that Wales is roughly in line with the OECD average in reading, science and maths.
“Of course, we want to do a good deal better than this in the future and our national ambition is to make our education system among the very best in the world.
“We would always caution people against over-claiming or over-blaming any one factor on the difference in results between countries. PISA is just one measure of an education system and cannot possibly tell the full story about our schools.
“However, today’s results are a positive step forward, and we extend our congratulations to our students and teachers.”
David Evans, Wales Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Pisa offers some benchmarking against other countries but it is only one measure of performance and we would do well to avoid any suggestion that a Pisa ranking is the ‘be all and end all’ of a country’s educational performance. It is not!
“This years’ results clearly show that Wales has improved in all 3 areas tested and we know that the Welsh Government has set a target for the next round of tests that will place our results above the OECD average if achieved. We are confident that our members’ professionalism and desire to provide the best education service will bring improvements in every performance measure but are conscious that we need to ensure that our priorities for youngsters in our schools are the correct ones.
“Providing the necessary resources and tools to embed the new curriculum in Wales has to be a primary focus which will reap its own rewards. That and striving to secure pupil happiness and wellbeing should be the emphasis for the Welsh Government going forward.”

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NEU looks forward to conference



NEU Cymru members are gathering in Newport on November 9 & 10 for the annual NEU Cymru Conference, where a range of issues which relate to education in Wales will be raised and debated.

There will be 27 motions debated in 6 different sections during the 2-day conference and teacher, lecturer, and support staff members will be present to discuss issues related to funding, the new Curriculum, mental health and Additional Learning Needs.

Also, on the agenda will be the launch of the ‘Making News Toolkit for Schools’ online resource, which is a collaboration between NEU Cymru’s Welsh Government funded Wales Union Learning Fund (WULF) project and Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism (C4CJ), which will take place during the first day of conference at a 1.30pm lunchtime fringe meeting.

David Evans, Wales Secretary for the National Education Union Cymru, said: “I’m expecting some interesting debate from members across the education system here in Wales, who will bring their experiences from their classrooms to conference.

“Our members are passionate about learning and supporting young people in schools and colleges, and they will use this opportunity to speak on a range of challenges facing education here in Wales. We have motions from districts across the country on important issues such as workload, mental health, funding and the new curriculum.”

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union said: “I am pleased to be opening NEU Cymru Conference. This is an important conference giving members the opportunity to raise and debate issues that affect them on a daily basis. We’re facing challenging times in the education sector across the UK, as austerity impacts on funding for schools and colleges.

“Wales has the opportunity to deliver something different, and I’m pleased that our members have welcomed the new Curriculum in principle. Now we need to make sure that enough resources are made available to ensure members can deliver the aspirations of the new Curriculum.”

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University staff to strike



SIXTY UK universities will be hit with eight days of strike action from Monday, November 25 to Wednesday, December 4, the UCU has announced.

Three of Wales’ universities, Bangor, Cardiff and UWTSD, will be affected by the dispute.

Last week UCU members backed strike action in two separate legal disputes, one on pensions and one on pay and working conditions. Overall, 79% of UCU members who voted backed strike action in the ballot over changes to pensions. In the ballot on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads, 74% of members polled backed strike action.

The union said universities had to respond positively and quickly if they wanted to avoid disruption this year. The disputes centre on changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and universities’ failure to make improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads.

The overall turnout in the USS ballot was 53% and on pay and conditions it was 49%. The union disaggregated the ballots so branches who secured a 50% turnout can take action in this first wave. The union’s higher education committee has now set out the timetable for the action.

As well as eight strike days from 25 November to Wednesday 4 December, union members will begin ‘action short of a strike’. This involves things like working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues and refusing to reschedule lectures lost to strike action.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘The first wave of strikes will hit universities later this month unless the employers start talking to us seriously about how they are going to deal with rising pension costs and declining pay and conditions.

‘Any general election candidate would be over the moon with a result along the lines of what we achieved last week. Universities can be in no doubt about the strength of feeling on these issues and we will be consulting branches whose desire to strike was frustrated by anti-union laws about re-balloting.’

Last year, university campuses were brought to a standstill by unprecedented levels of strike action. UCU said it was frustrated that members had to be balloted again, but that universities’ refusal to deal with their concerns had left them with no choice.

Last month, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner called on both sides to get round the table for urgent talks. She said she fully supported UCU members fighting for fair pay and decent pensions and called on both sides to work together to find solutions to the disputes.

The University and Colleges Employers’ Association dismissed the strike ballot results.

It claims, in all seriousness, the low turnouts in the unions’ ballots of their members is a clear indication that the great majority of university union members as well as wider HE employees understand the financial realities for their institution.

Extending that logic to a general election or other poll would create some rather interesting results and would, for example, overturn the outcome of the 2016 Referendum.

UCU has just 55 results from their 147 separate ballots supporting a national dispute over the outcome of the 2019-20 JNCHES pay round. While UCU members in these 55 institutions could technically be asked to strike against their individual institution, this would be causing damage to both union members and to students in an unrealistic attempt to force all 147 employers to reopen the concluded 2019-20 national pay round and improve on an outcome that is for most of these institutions already at the very limit of what is affordable.

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