Promoting a “Welsh dimension” within education in Wales

The Welsh flag drawn on a blackboard

Dr Rhys Jones explores how Welshness should be embedded in the new schools curriculum

The Independent Review of Curriculum and Assessment Arrangements in Wales (2015), more commonly known as the Donaldson Report, emphasises the need for a new curriculum for Wales to incorporate a “Welsh dimension”, or in the Report’s words, to be “authentic: rooted in Welsh values and culture.”

This reference to the connection that should exist between the new curriculum and “Welsh values and culture” illustrates some of the key issues that our research explores.

Firstly, what are these Welsh values and cultures? We know that nations are ‘imagined communities’, so we need to ask how Welsh values and cultures will be imagined as part of this new curriculum.

Some clues are given in the Donaldson Report, with reference made to the cultural significance of the Welsh language. More broadly, the Report also seeks to make connections between the new curriculum and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act. The vision promoted in the Act is of a Wales that is “prosperous, resilient, healthier, and more equal, with cohesive communities, a vibrant culture and a thriving Welsh language.”

Not many people would argue with the vision provided by the Well-being Act – with the obvious exception of the reference to the Welsh language. However, to what extent does it provide a sense of the values and cultures that might underpin an “authentic” curriculum for Wales? Also, what are the characteristics of this “vibrant culture”, which might help to define a distinctively Welsh approach to education?

Secondly, who should be responsible for implementing this new curriculum? A significant role will be played by teachers. However, we need to be wary of the possible unintended consequences of providing too much latitude to individual schools and teachers within the new curriculum.

Some of our research undertaken in schools across Wales has shown that implementation of some aspects of the current Cwricwlwm Cymreig has been inconsistent, with some schools viewing it as something relevant only to the Welsh language, as opposed to something that needed to be mainstreamed throughout the whole curriculum. Care needs to be taken, consequently, to ensure that the “authentic” curriculum envisioned as part of the Donaldson Report is rolled out consistently.

Therefore, the Donaldson Report contains a series of laudable statements about the need to embed Welsh values and cultures in the new curriculum for Wales, but as we point out here, and as the Report notes, “there is a degree of complexity to be resolved”. We would argue that our role, as social science researchers based in Wales, is to seek to understand this complexity and, where possible, to resolve it.