[lg policy] Wales: Caerphilly points to future of the language

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sun Jul 4 16:26:15 UTC 2010

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

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.

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