This volume is the impressive outcome of pioneering academic research undertaken at the Language Policy and Planning Research Unit of the School of Welsh at the University of Cardiff, which has long displayed a sustained interest in the evolution of education through the medium of the Welsh language and bilingual education. The Welsh-medium schools have been an important element in our educational landscape ever since the 1960s, which saw the establishment of Rhydyfelen School near Pontypridd, the first such secondary school in south-east Wales.
The considerable impact of such schools is a curiously neglected field of study. This volume aims to fill the gap, and is targeted, in particular, at the parents of Welsh schoolchildren and those responsible for educational decision-making at both national and local level.
The study, comprising twelve chapters, is divided into two discrete sections. The first, most of which is penned by Huw S. Thomas (once a Latin master at Rhydyfelen School and later the first head teacher of Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni) looks at the structures and processes which have governed the emergence of Welsh-language education in this area. The first chapter examines the complex interplay of linguistic factors, identity, and educational and political momentum which governed the development of these schools. The second considers the home backgrounds of the pupils, the internal organisation of the schools and their teaching standards, together with their management and teaching strategies. The idea that these schools ‘over-achieve’, a common accusation indeed, is examined rigorously.
Subsequent chapters by Hugh Thomas analyse the complex interplay of language, identity and education, and the multi-level power structure throughout the education system which determined the ethos of these schools, especially within the gritty, day-to-day administration of the South Glamorgan and Cardiff County Councils. Chapter 6 conjectures as to the future of Welsh-medium education and outlines the likely challenges and problems of the difficult years ahead.
The second part of the study, penned by an array of writers, examines themes which include the evolution of these schools against the backdrop of the general fate of the Welsh language, the vital role of parental power, so crucial throughout the decades, the contribution of the local education authorities, the use patterns of the Welsh language by pupils in these schools, and the likely influence of current changes and patterns in education. It is left to former Welsh First Minister Rhodri Morgan to provide a gripping cameo study of school re-organisation at Canton in Cardiff in Chapter 10 – ‘a lesson in how not to do it’ – which pinpoints the botched plans of the Cardiff City Council for this school.
The highest standards of academic scholarship are maintained throughout all these disparate chapters. The whole text is buttressed by an array of supportive statistical tables and graphs, useful maps showing the location of the schools in south-east Wales, a glossary of some of the terms used in the text, an exhaustive bibliography of relevant publications, and a detailed, genuinely helpful index. Throughout, the study is an engrossing and highly rewarding read from cover to cover and is likely to inspire further research in this exciting field of study.
J. Graham Jones
It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgment should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.
Gellir defnyddio'r adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatâd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.
Huw Thomas is a former headteacher of Welsh-medium comprehensive schools and an adjunct member of the LPPR Unit at Cardiff University.
Colin Williams is Research Professor and Director of the Language, Policy and Planning Research Unit at the School of Welsh, Cardiff University
Parents, Personalities and Power: Welsh-medium Schools in South-east Wales is the first volume ever published to investigate in depth the interdependent influences on the phenomenal growth of such schools over the last half century. Derived from a sustained research investigation based in the School of Welsh, Cardiff University (2003–8), the research is set within a constantly evolving linguistic, social and political society. The authors underline the international interest in the sustainable and continuing growth of the Ysgolion Cymraeg, and, as the title suggests, note the various powers that have influenced the shaping of the Welsh-school movement. These reflect the increased interest in the language and identity of Wales and the future challenges these schools face.