Miners' strike to be GCSE option

20th March 2009 at 00:00
Twenty-five years after 'pivotal point' in Welsh history, it features in study of industrial decline

The miners' strike of 1984-5 remains a taboo subject in some communities. But while the most vivid memories are of violent clashes and poverty, the strike is also seen as a defining moment in Welsh history.

This September, the WJEC exam board will offer an option about the strike as part of its history GCSE. Part of Wales 1900-2000 covers the decline of heavy industry in Wales.

History teachers agree that the strike should be broached in class and that enough time has elapsed for it to be studied objectively.

Gareth Jones, head of history at Ysgol Gyfun Rhydywaun in Aberdare, said he was glad this "pivotal point" in Welsh history was up for study, but warned that the lessons must be taught sensitively.

Having grown up in a Caerphilly mining community, he recalls the conflict with a degree of unease. "Talking about the strike is almost as taboo as the Aberfan (landslide) disaster in these parts," he said.

"It is easier to teach the Holocaust as it's further away. But I'm glad it is to become an option.

"I think enough time has gone by for the miners' strike to be taught without the raw emotion, but I'm not sure how the children will go home and discuss the issues with their dads. The father of one boy in my class was a scab, and he is still known as Dai scab to this day."

Mr Jones said his department would follow WJEC foreign history options next year because of the popularity of Nazi Germany among pupils, but that he would introduce the miners' strike at key stage 3 to generate future interest.

Hywel Francis, MP for Aberavon and a historian, has published a book to mark the 25th anniversary of the beginning of the strike.

His wife Mair, a primary teacher during the dispute, helped to raise funds for the miners' families when their benefits were stopped because the strike was deemed illegal.

Dr Francis said the importance of the strike in Welsh history could not be underestimated because it heightened Welsh antipathy towards Westminster rule.

"In the Labour areas of the Valleys, it was to lead to support for devolution in the referendum - those votes were crucial," he said.

David Griffiths, assistant head of Porth County Community School, taught during the strikes and recalls the moral dilemma it presented for teachers: "My father worked at Maerdy colliery and I was a teacher, but my best friend worked in the pit and I had money - a wage. They had nothing."

He said tolerance of "scabs" and those who went back to work because they were destitute should be taught: "I remember the pain and the poverty of the people in this proud valley. There were policemen set against pitmen - it was an emotionally charged time.

He believes the pit closures led to destruction of community spirit, which he would like to see restored. "Pit workers worked side by side risking death. At the end of the day, they would have a pint together in the social clubs. Now the valley is just a commuter belt for Cardiff."

'History On Our Side: Wales and the 1984-85 Miners' Strike' by Hywel Francis is published by Iconau (Pounds 9.99).

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