St David's Day lost?

Mixed feelings as Westminster blocks yet another plea for patron saint holiday

TRADITIONAL St David's Day celebrations in schools could be lost forever if March 1 is made an official bank holiday, it has been claimed.

The custom of children dressing up in national costume, singing Calon Lan (A Pure Heart)) at school eisteddfods before being allowed home at lunchtime is a cherished annual ritual in many parts of Wales. But calls for the occasion to become a one-day holiday have been blocked repeatedly by Westminster, despite the Assembly government voting unanimously in favour in 2000.

Earlier this week a further attempt, with the support of an 11,000 strong e-petition, failed again to convince the Prime Minister to make it a national holiday.

But education unions are also divided over the idea. Geraint Davies, of the NASUWT Cymru, said celebrations of Wales's patron saint could die out if schools closed.

Speaking in a personal capacity, he said: "This is an opportunity for us as a nation to celebrate our Welshness and, in many parts of the country, the best place to do that is in school."

But despite some reservations UCAC, the Welsh-language education union, has already passed a motion in favour of a bank holiday. "St David's Day should be enjoyed by all children and we would encourage schools to celebrate it in some form or another," said general secretary Gruff Hughes, who takes a one-day holiday himself for the occasion.

"But when we discussed it with members there were mixed feelings," he added. "Teachers from schools in more Anglicised areas felt it was important for the children to be in school."

Heledd Hayes, education officer for the NUT Cymru, agreed with a national holiday on March 1.

"A day off for Wales would be good for the nation, and it should be in addition to the public holidays we already have," she said.

Anna Brychan, director of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru, also said many members from her union would favour a public holiday.

But she added: "We would need to be careful that we did not inadvertently damage pupils' celebrations, which have become firmly rooted in our schools."

Gareth Jones, secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru, said a day off would fit with the aims of Y Cwricwlwm Cymreig, a compulsory part of the curriculum that celebrates Welsh identity.

But he said: "Children are more aware of the significance of St David's Day in school than they would be if they had the day off."

The Welsh Conservatives were one of the first to express disappointment at Tony Blair's refusal to sanction the holiday. Nick Bourne, their leader, said: "I want it to be a flagship day for Wales, like St Patrick's Day in Ireland."

Mr Blair refused the calls, saying it was not possible to "please everyone as to who or what should be celebrated".

* Pupils at St Joseph's Catholic junior school in Swansea yesterday celebrated by staging an X-Factor-style competition. They voted for the Year 5 classmate who gave the best performance of their favourite Welsh song.

See leader, page 26


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