Those of us who were at school during the 1950s and taking History for our CWB certificate will never forget that the history of Wales consisted mainly of the Methodist Revival and, in particular, the inestimable Griffith Jones of Llanddowror, the man who, in the 18th century, taught the Welsh people how to read their own language in the Circulating Schools set up by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
Griffith Jones's tremendous contribution notwithstanding, the history of education in Wales begins, as far as our historians have been concerned, with the Industrial Revolution and the first attempts by the State to establish a schools system suited to the needs of the urban working class.
The present book sets out to correct this approach by tracing the growth of education to its beginnings in the monastic society of the fifth century. The Puritan impulse and the states desire to have a literate lower class able to read Scripture in Welsh was, from the start, the over-riding consideration, and hence the Welsh Bible of 1548 and the religious works that followed in its wake.
The great watershed in the provision of education in Wales was, of course, the Blue Book reports of 1847 and their castigation of the common people as ignorant, immoral and illiterate, largely because their English was deficient or, across large parts of the country, non-existent. The ensuing controversy, which was joined by Welsh patriots and British jingoists in about equal measure, turned largely on how to ensure that the people would acquire a knowledge of English, the language of the realm, the Empire, commerce and getting on in the world.
The British state played its part, by means of numerous Education Acts, in creating a system of County Schools and Grammar Schools which, in due course, ensured generations of men and women for whom Welsh was their native tongue and English the language in which they could read and write. The consequences for Welsh were disastrous.
This woeful trend was corrected only in the post-war period when schools, both elementary and secondary, began teaching through the medium of Welsh. Another milestone was passed in 1965 with the opening of the first Comprehensive School which heralded the demise of the old Grammar Schools.
This excellent book by two Emeritus Professors of Education is the first one-volume history of education in Wales and, as such, is to be warmly welcomed.
It ends with a chapter entitled An Education for Wales which examines the implications of the establishment of the National Assembly and the present situation. If Wales is now increasingly defined by its institutions, then the chief of these, the Assembly, is increasingly identified by the distinctiveness of its education policies. This in turn could not have happened were Wales not a society with unique features. If historians of Welsh education are an endangered species, we hope that this book provides conclusive evidence that it is not for want of a subject to study.
It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgement should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.
Gellir defnyddior adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatâd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.