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.