Local heroes help syllabus

Home-grown talent has boosted interest in Welsh culture but weaknesses remain, say inspectors. Nicola Porter reports

Learning about the business skills of Welsh-born tycoon Sir Terry Matthews has helped pupils' sense of belonging to Wales, according to inspectors.

The owner of Newport's lavish Celtic Manor Resort is one of the most popular personalities to be used by teachers as part of Y Cwricwlwm Cymreig - the curriculum which promotes Welsh history, language and people.

Inspection body Estyn found three-quarters of schools were strong in their delivery of the syllabus, often using home-grown pop stars, sporting legends and leading scientists to hone in on Welshness during lessons.

But they also found that few new teachers to Wales received compulsory training on Y Cwricwlwm Cymreig - a major recommendation of a previous Estyn report published last year. In 2005, inspectors also suggested parents who move to Wales should attend evening classes to learn more about the aims of the tailor-made curriculum.

They found schools in border counties, such as Monmouthshire, were particularly bad at delivering Y Cwricwlwm Cymreig. And teachers who had moved to Wales showed little interest in learning about Welsh culture and its education system.

Now Estyn is recommending local authorities take more of a lead in providing in-service training to teachers who, for the second year running, were found to have "limited awareness" of Y Cwricwlwm Cymreig.

An Assembly government spokesperson said it was looking at ways of providing training on "teaching in Wales" for NQTs and experienced teachers moving to Welsh schools. She added: "Delivery and implementation of the Cwricwlwm Cymreig has improved. It is a statutory requirement which all schools must address. We expect schools to deliver such requirements."

Good practice already suggested by curriculum bosses for teaching the syllabus includes linking subjects to "something or somebody" Welsh. For example, a science lesson linked to the success of drugs in curing diseases could focus on the work of Welsh-born Professor Richard Tecwyn Williams, a world leader in his field.

But there has been a mixed response to moves towards a truly bilingual Wales and increased Welsh awareness - a major policy aim of the Assembly government - in some more anglicised schools.

Welsh was made a compulsory subject for pupils aged up to 16 in 1999. But this summer, almost 300 more pupils took the short course GCSE in Welsh second language than the full-length version - a result of teacher dissent.

Many Welsh teachers believe the current full course GCSE paper is too difficult for pupils, and some heads have admitted squeezing a crash course in the language into just over two weeks, to meet the second-language requirements.

Welsh has also been rejected by schools piloting the Welsh baccalaureate.

Pupils have instead opted for Spanish, French or Italian to fulfil the new qualification's language module requirement.

Inspectors found in a quarter of schools that Y Cwricwlwm Cymreig was of a low standard, with major shortcomings in pupil knowledge. In some schools, teaching of the syllabus was condemned as "unimaginative and undemanding".

However, they found in three-quarters of sample schools investigated that teaching was stronger then ever. The Welsh bac, and moves towards a new 14-19 curriculum, have also enhanced Y Cwricwlwm Cymreig, they added.

But they said the Assembly Government needs to ensure more vocationally-led exam papers are available in the Welsh language. The report, Cwricwlwm Cymreig phase 2, concluded that in schools where the syllabus is strong, most of it is delivered through extra-curricular activities, such as Eisteddfodau.

Inspectors found that pupils taking part had a greater sense of community.


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