Caerphilly points to future of the language

Jonathan Brooks-Jones discovers that culture and nationhood are the main reasons for English speaking parents sending their children to Welsh-medium schools

Contrary to expectations, identification with Wales’s culture and nationhood is the primary reason why more English-speaking parents are sending their children to Welsh-medium schools in the Rhymney Valley. This is a major finding of a research study, based on interviews and questionnaires carried out over the past year by Bangor academic Rhian Hodges and reported to a Cardiff University conference this week.

When she set out on her Phd research project she had assumed that she would find the main motivation was to provide children with an edge in the jobs market. However, cultural and identity motivations far outweighed economic factors.

With ten Welsh medium schools in the county Caerphilly has one of the highest concentrations of Welsh-medium education in Wales – 12.7 per cent of country’s Welsh-medium primary schools, and 10.6 per cent of its Welsh-medium secondary schools.

Ms Hodge’s findings will have far reaching implications for future language policy. Aspirations for creating a bilingual society in Wales largely rest on Welsh-medium education. Between the 1991 and 2001 census there was a marginal 2 per cent overall increase in the total numbers of Welsh speakers in Wales, taking the total to 582,400. However, within that figure there was a remarkable 40.8 per cent rise in the numbers of Welsh speakers aged 5 – 15.

Parents cited two factors as being most important in their choice of Welsh medium education for their children in their responses to Ms Hodge’s questionnaire:

  • The intrinsic value of speaking Welsh.
  • Being fluent in the Welsh language can also enable one to understand oneself as part of a particular community, contributing to a strong sense of national identity and a sense of belonging.

Educational reasons were also important to many parents who believed Welsh-medium schools had high rates of academic success. Parents who have recently moved from England to Wales regarded Welsh-medium schools as having a similar ethos to private-schools.

These findings were presented to the inaugural conference of the Wales Institute of Social & Economic Research, that was established last year as a collaboration between universities across Wales. The keynote presentation at the conference was a paper State Devolution and National Identity: Continuity and Change in the politics of Welshness and Britishness in Wales, delivered by Dr. Jonathan Bradbury of Swansea University and Dr. Rhys Andrews of Cardiff University.

Their research questioned the extent to which people in Wales feel Welsh or British, comparing the findings with similar questions asked in Scotland and England. They found that people in Wales are generally more assertive about their Welshness, and silent about Britishness. However, it is far from clear that devolution is the explanation.

They found that while support for an independent Wales has remained strong since 1997, opinion is still divided on this question. The majority of people would like more powers for National Assembly, largely because of the instrumental reasons. For example, many believe that it would benefit the people of Wales by leading to the improvement of public services, creating a better economy, better health care, and so on. Many of those who will vote ‘yes’ in the forthcoming referendum will do so for these reasons, rather than because of support for an independent Wales.

Another finding is that the further from Cardiff Bay you go, the less support you find for the Welsh Government, leading them to describe it a ‘Bodiless Head’. For example, the Welsh Government is determined to provide equal rights for members of the gay and lesbian community. However, at ground level discrimination is still rife.

Another presentation explored relations between the Welsh Government and local government, undertaken by academics at Cardiff Business School – Tom Entwistle, James Downe, Valeria Guarneros-Meza and Steve Martin. They discussed four possible relationship structures between the two layers.

1. Collaborative: On this model, central government (in Wales) liaise with local authorities in order to come to an agreement on common goals and proposed actions. Both parties exchange resources and listen to each other.

2. Hierarchical: This model would re-assert the control and guidance of the central Welsh Government, putting the local authority in a subservient position.  It typically includes regulation and ring fencing of funds.

3. Competitive: In this relationship structure, rival units make proposals regarding their aims and aspirations, and must compete for the support and attention of the Welsh Government. Outcomes are dependent on the strength of presentations made.

While the Collaborative model is the preferred perception of inter-governmental relations, the researchers found that the hierarchical structure was the dominant form in practice. They also found that the competitive model occurs more often than one might suspect, and that this is likely to increase as funding becomes scarcer.

Which kind of relationship should the Welsh government try foster with local authorities? The researchers suggest that this is probably not the right question. If used by themselves all the models lead to problems. They argue that a “judicious mixing of market, hierarchy, and networks” would achieve optimum outcomes. The Welsh Government needs to get the balance right.

Jonathan Brooks-Jones is sub-editor for ClickonWales

2 thoughts on “Caerphilly points to future of the language

  1. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  2. This is interesting, though, not totally unexpected. However, I feel at times that WM education doesn’t always give the cultural/national education which the parents so wish.

    For instance, although I attended a WM in the South where we had school assembly with a Christian message almost daily we hardly ever sang any of the well-known and well-loved Welsh hymns. Maybe it was a reaction against the cliched feel those hymns had about them at the time but the outcome is that pupils at that school can’t sing the ‘hymns and arias’ which are such a part of our make-up and which gives Welsh language identity such a strong attachment.

    Why did my school (and I believe others) not sing and enjoy such fantastic hymns and songs. Yes, we had singing but it was of the most dull and soul-less songs which said nothing of our culture and heritage nor the genius of our nation.

    The end result is that we’re in danger of losing a valuable and enjoyable part of our culture which will ultimately undermine the appeal of Welsh language culture. It’s not an argument against learning new songs but just a reflection on a sad state of affairs.

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