Parents, Personalities and Power

I've just finished reading a book on Welsh-medium education in south-east Wales which I'd like to recommend to others who are interested in the subject. It's called Parents, Personalities and Power.

     

The book is divided into two parts. The first part is by Huw S Thomas, who was head of Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni. As someone who has only become interested in Welsh-medium education over the past few years, I found this part interesting as an overview of all that has happened over the past few decades; particularly the thinking and motivation of those who worked hard to establish Welsh-medium schools, and the strategies and tactics they used to get them, often in the face of considerable inertia if not outright resistance.

The second part is a series of single-chapter essays from a number of different viewpoints by David Hawker, Michael LN Jones, Geraint Rees, Rhodri Morgan and Jeni Price. Rhodri Morgan's piece stood out from the others in showing how Labour politicians in Cardiff think and—in the light of what's now happening over the new Welsh-medium school in Grangetown—provides some insight into why the same blind spots and intransigence are still there.

The whole thing is topped and tailed with an introduction by Colin H Williams and a concluding chapter by him and Meirion Prys Jones.

First and foremost it is an academic book, and that makes it essential reading for those with more than a passing interest in the subject. But at the same time it is actually a very good read, and therefore useful for anyone who is thinking about what is best for their own children.

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As for my personal impressions, the book helped confirm a conclusion that I have held for some time: namely that reversing language shift, and going further by establishing Welsh as a language for the whole of Wales rather than just parts of it, is fundamental in terms of our collective identity as a nation and our increasing confidence to govern ourselves as an independent nation.

Yet the book made it clear to me that we are at a crossroads. Welsh-medium schools were established by the hard work and extraordinary commitment of parents and others acting at an individual and group level to get government and local government to take Welsh seriously. But since devolution, first with Iaith Pawb in 2003, and now with Iaith Fyw: Iaith Byw and the Welsh-medium Education Strategy in particular, the focus has shifted from something that was undoubtedly a bottom-up movement to something that is also a top-down movement.

Of course I welcome the fact that successive Welsh Governments of varying political colours have recognized the importance of Wales becoming a fully bilingual nation and the role of Welsh-medium education as one of the primary means of achieving it. But if their involvement engenders a general feeling that Welsh is something for government to take care of, I wonder if it will make parents and other concerned individuals and groups less inclined to take an active part in fighting for the establishment of more Welsh-medium schools. I hope it doesn't, but I fear it might.

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There's another review of the book at gwales.com, and you can buy it from them for £25 or shop around and get it for a few pounds less.

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