Why I’ve set up a petition calling for the teaching of a common Welsh history in our schools
Elfed Wyn Jones
Like many of us here in Wales, I was unfortunately never given a chance in school to learn properly about our nation’s past. By the end of my history lessons in the sixth form, I knew the history of the Tudors, and the history of America and Germany better than the history of Wales. I learnt more about Welsh history through Welsh language lessons.
To clarify, my history teachers were fantastic in teaching the subject of history, and the techniques on how to understand history as a subject, but what they were given to teach us didn’t develop my history of Wales and the knowledge of the Welsh nation.
After realising that I missed out on understanding the history of Wales, I decided in June 2017 to start a petition to ensure that Welsh history was taught in our primary, secondary and sixth form schools — by February the petition managed to reach the threshold of 5,000 to have a debate in the Senedd.
It was then passed to the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee in the Senedd. They gave key recommendations on the new curriculum that pupils in Wales will start to be taught in 2022.
One of the recommendations by the committee was ‘to create a guide that sets out a common body of information for all pupils studying history’. This meant that there would events in Welsh History that all pupils would learn.
Unfortunately, the Welsh Government rejected this recommendation noting:
“Curriculum for Wales is a purpose-led curriculum which moves away from specifying lists of ‘topics/content’ to be taught. Curriculum for Wales provides a clear articulation of the conceptual understanding required to progress in learning. History will form part of the Humanities Area of Learning and Experience (AoLE). “
It was an enormous disappointment to see this recommendation rejected. Why is this a problem? It’s because the new curriculum will essentially mean that schools can teach whatever content they want about Welsh history. No doubt in some schools the teaching of Welsh history will be excellent, while in other schools key events in Welsh history will barely get a mention.
It also puts a great deal of pressure on teachers, asking them to teach Welsh history with no clear resources or guidance about where to concentrate.
As it stands, students will leave school with an unequal understanding of our history, skewed one way or another by the teacher’s own background, interests, or political point of view. It creates a “lottery” system where pupils would learn history depending on their school and faculty.
‘History’ or ‘histories’?
Also, ultimately, in any nation, there needs to be at least some common understanding of the nation’s past. If looking back helps us understand the present then in a nation with its own elected parliament we need some common understanding of both, and history is a key part of that. That can only happen if our individual histories become our common history.
Yesterday the Education Minister Kirsty Williams said that there is ‘no such thing as a Welsh history – there are Welsh histories’. It was later suggested that her comments were taken out of context, but it is in context that they are most interesting.
A Golwg360 reporter asked: “Is there a danger that this Cynefin system only leads to parochialism and there’s a potential for it to lead to school children knowing more about their own areas than a general history of Wales? Shouldn’t the Welsh Government be offering a kind of unifying vision of Welsh history?”
Kirsty Williams replied: “Well, first of all, there is no such thing as a Welsh history – there are Welsh histories than we need to talk about. But that point is starting at the youngest age with the principle of Cynefin, understanding your own locality and building up from that.”
Of course there are ‘histories’ within Wales but the word ‘history’ already covers a plurality of events and narratives. Our universities offer degrees in ‘Welsh history’, not ‘Welsh histories’, so Kirsty Williams’ insistence on ‘histories’ is significant.
The insistence on ‘histories’ and the emphasis on local history in Kirsty Williams’ answer suggests that it is the intention of the Welsh Government that what the curriculum will deliver is a focus on local history rather than a shared common historical knowledge across the nation.
We will have pupils in Bala who know the history of Tryweryn like the back of their hand, and ones in Tredegar who know the history of the riots there. Great. But the danger is that they may well not know each other’s history and therefore not be able to come to a shared consensus about what this says about Wales’ past, present and future.
In response to the Government’s rejection of the recommendation by the Committee on Culture, the Chair Bethan Sayed said :
“I’m disappointed that the Government has rejected our recommendation to include a common body of knowledge for all pupils studying history in the new curriculum. The evidence we heard was that learning about key events will allow all pupils to have an understanding of how their country has been shaped by local and national events within the wider context.”
What I’m calling for in my petition is a clear History curriculum which will guarantee that some significant events in Welsh history are taught to every pupil in every corner of Wales, but also create a space within the teaching of Welsh history to teach about local and regional history as well.
Ensuring this will not only give pupils a chance to learn about National and local history.
I have created a new petition to ensure that common aspects of Welsh history will be taught to each pupil in every school in Wales.
We need to take clear action with this matter, and ensure that the campaign to secure some significant events of Welsh History are taught in schools will succeed. The campaign will intensify in the coming weeks and months — so keep your eyes peeled.
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All things come when the Cymry remember the struggle of Urien ap Cynfarch (of Rheged) and honour him in their prayers, as an ancestor spirit who guides us. Light candles to honour him, his fallen sons and the daughters sent to Pengwern and Powys.
You are obviously annoying the Commies!
Will light a candle for you also in the cathedral tomorrow.
And bless the Llan of Collen.
Have lit three. Children were singing to accordians in the side chapel, lifting the spirit! Diolch!!
A child of the 50s in England, I grew up knowing NOTHING about the history of Scotland and Wales, or the vexed questions of Ireland. I too knew more about 19th c English law-making – that was what was taught in my [excellent] school. In order to understand one country’s background, you have to know something of the others. An eye-opener, in later life. It’s easier for younger [primary] children to learn about their immediate environment through the people and places of their local area [local history was my personal specialist area in the CHAC for Hereford & Worcester]; the… Read more »
As a Frenchman, studying the fascinating history of Wales (l read all l found and watched all the history docs l could) increased my admiration for my Brythonic cousins. A whole chapter of my relatives’ history (the Cymry) was hidden to me for too long.
To discover it made me understand why we’ve been separated.
If this discovery shocked one of your cousins beyond the Channel, l wonder how shocked will be the very same Welsh when they learn their common history …
Wnes i drio llofnodi’r ddeiseb, ond does gen i ddim cyfeiriad dilys Cymreig.
wedi llofnodi/signed. Kristy Williams comments are of a colonial mindset, to say Cymru hasn’t got a history but histories, is aimed at keeping us divided and to separate us as a people. Take my county SIr Benfro/Pembrokeshire for example, are those “Below the Lansker” to be taught an English version of Welsh history, of the settler people, while those “Above the Landsker” taught a Welsh version, of princes and poets ? During my formative years I wasn’t taught a single iota of Welsh history (and I received approximately 12 hours of Welsh lessons in 12 years of education), of course… Read more »
Rwyf wedi ceisio, ond yn methu cael y manylion i fyny.
Kirsty Williams’s decision to put the focus on local history will not give Welsh schoolchildren an adequate grounding in the history of their country as a whole, including (importantly) its relationship with England. What is it that she’s afraid of? The truth coming out? Learning national aspects of Welsh history worked for me when I was in school; the emphasis was on national history, backed up by consideration of local aspects. This is the correct way to teach Welsh history.
Pob lwc efo eich deiseb chi.
Our rulers just want to teach local history, as in local areas of Britain, rather than teach Wales’s children the historical background that would provide a modern context for a modern understanding of Wales in the world. It doesn’t have to be from an anti English standpoint. My understanding is that Hywel Dda and Alfred the Great got on well. It was more the Norman conquerors that tried to kill off Welsh language and culture. Edward I was still a French speaking Norman conqueror rather than an English King. Then again, Alun Wyn Jones has some Teutonic dna, probably from… Read more »
Similar problem in New Zealand. Students have more knowledge about European history than the New Zealand history. Recent curriculum changes to include New Zealand history are under way. It remains to be seen how politically biased this history will be. Will the opposing views of the settlers versus the Maori be clearly shared? Meanwhile, perhaps it is the genealogists who publish their family histories who are building up a body of accurate information about different parts of our New Zealand history. Included in the mix is the verbal history of the Maori.
As a teacher, I would argue that children need to be taught life skills. Skills of historical enquiry are arguably more useful than the content of what they learn in History. The National Curriculum was started in the UK all because a politician could not believe that pupils were unaware of the relevance of 1066. The result was a curriculum that was far too broad and not deep enough. There is no time to consolidate skills and understanding. This is why many children are underperforming. Not everyone living in Wales is Welsh- far from it – and millions of people… Read more »
If their parents have moved to Wales, these children should be taught the national history of Wales. End of.