Youth festival makes for 'good losers'

29th May 2009 at 01:00
Head of Welsh-medium union praises the Urdd, but warns that some schools sideline Welsh

Competitions such as the Urdd Eisteddfod teach children to lose with grace, the head of a teachers' union said this week as thousands gathered in Cardiff to celebrate Welsh language and culture.

Only a handful of the 40,000 youngsters who entered Wales's largest youth festival were lucky enough to be crowned winners. But there were few tears on show as primary and secondary pupils demonstrated skills as diverse as poetry recitation and disco dancing.

Around 500 schools passed their regional heats to win a place at the six- day Urdd final, which was held this year in Cardiff Bay and the Wales Millennium Centre.

Competitors from across Wales were joined by pupils from the London Welsh School. One eight-year-old even travelled from Singapore so she could compete.

Elaine Edwards, general secretary of Welsh-medium union UCAC, praised teachers who gave up their half term to ferry pupils between competitions.

"The way children are prepared for the Urdd is very important," she said. "Famous people who have taken part said it taught them to be good losers, as well as winners, and they have become more professional as a result."

But she admitted some teachers struggled to find time in their busy day to coach pupils.

"There's a tendency for Welsh in a second language setting to become something that is only done in the Welsh classroom," she said.

The Assembly government's Welsh-medium education strategy, which was published earlier this month, recognised this concern and called for more informal Welsh to be learnt through movements such as the Urdd Eisteddfod.

Nearly all Welsh-medium schools compete in the Urdd at district level and they dominate the entries for singing and poetry.

But English-medium schools - all of which teach Welsh to some degree - enter hundreds of pupils in non-spoken competitions such as art, music or design and technology.

There is also a well-established competition for Welsh learners.

Yvonne Scott, head of English-medium Mount Stuart Primary in Cardiff, said she hoped her pupils would want to compete next year after their involvement in an innovative art project this year.

Her pupils, most of whom come from ethnic minority backgrounds, helped Cardiff artist Nia Wyn Jones create a sculpture out of car parts, which was displayed at the festival.

Ms Scott said: "I have always been surprised by how Welsh our pupils feel they are. They are Somali Welsh or Bengali Welsh, but that Welsh part is always there.

"The Urdd is a marvellous event, but I think they (the organisers) have become aware that it is not just rural Welsh schools who want to take part. They have to encompass everybody."

Efa Gruffudd Jones, chief executive of the Urdd, said the Welsh language would only thrive if young people were given opportunities to use it. "This is just as true for those attending Welsh-medium schools as those who don't," he said. "Our local development officers contact every school, and where a desire to take part in Urdd events is expressed this will be followed up. In an ideal world, we would like every school in Wales to take part. From our point of view, the more the merrier."

Famous former contestants

  • Bryn Terfel - opera star
  • Ioan Gruffudd - actor who rose to fame in ITV's Hornblower
  • Cerys Matthews - former lead singer of Catatonia and solo artist
  • Aled Jones - singer who performed a hit cover of "Walking in the Air" in the 1980s
  • Shan Cothi - opera singer, actress and former a teacher in Powys
  • Connie Fisher - winner of BBC talent show How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?
  • Gethin Jones - former Blue Peter presenter
  • Only Men Aloud - Cardiff-based male voice choir and winners of the BBC's Last Choir Standing.

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