The History of Wales – how is it represented in the curriculum?

On 19 June 2019, Plenary will debate the motion, tabled by Sian Gwenllian AM, ‘to propose that the National Assembly for Wales calls on the Welsh Government to ensure that the history of Wales is taught to every school pupil in Wales without exception’.

Estimated reading time: 4 Minutes

17 June 2019

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

On 19 June 2019, Plenary will debate the motion, tabled by Sian Gwenllian AM, ‘to propose that the National Assembly for Wales calls on the Welsh Government to ensure that the history of Wales is taught to every school pupil in Wales without exception’.

Current curriculum

Currently, history is a foundation subject within the national curriculum.  The Welsh Government’s History Programme of Study  (PDF 155KB) (January 2008) sets out the current requirements for history at Key Stages 2 and 3.  Beyond Key Stage 3, the WJEC has published specifications for history at GCSEandAS/A levelThese were introduced for first teaching in 2017 and 2015 respectively. 

Task and Finish Group

In October 2012, the then Minister for Education and Skills, Leighton Andrews, said that the time was right to look again at the place of Welsh history within the history curriculum.  He therefore established a task and finish group, chaired by Dr Elin Jones, to explore and consider the future development of Cwricwlwm Cymreig, the teaching of Welsh history.  The group’s final report, Cwricwlwm Cymreig, history and the story of Wales: Final report (PDF 154KB) (September 2013) made twelve recommendations relating to the Welsh dimension in the development of the next curriculum and in relation to the history curriculum in particular.

The Group found that the current programme of study for history had, from its inception, (at the introduction of the national curriculum in Wales and England in 1989) given appropriate attention to local and Welsh history.  However:

the panel’s experience suggests that many learners in Wales learn far more about the history of England than that of their own area and country. The task group also believe that not enough attention is paid to the other countries of Britain, and that there is also a tendency to concentrate on a narrow range of topics in the history of Europe and the world.

While the Group suggested that they did not want to replace the current programme of study with a ‘programme of study for Welsh history’ they wanted to see the diet of what was learnt and taught in schools rebalanced to make the centrality of the Welsh element more visible

A new curriculum

In March 2014, Huw Lewis announced that Professor Graham Donaldson would be undertaking a review of the national curriculum in Wales.  As part of his review, Professor Donaldson considered the recommendations of the Task and Finish Group.

The report of Professor Donaldson’s review, Successful Futures (PDF 2MB)was published in 2015.  Since then, the Welsh Government has been working with schools and other stakeholders to develop a new Curriculum for Wales. This will be introduced on a phased basis from September 2022.

A draft version of the new Curriculum for Wales was published on 30 April 2019 and the Welsh Government is taking public feedback on it until 19 July 2019 before publishing a final version in January 2020. Further detail on the new curriculum can be seen in our blog article, the Draft Curriculum for Wales 2022.

The new curriculum has six Areas of Learning and Experience (AoLE) rather than separate, individual subjects. History will be taught within the Humanities AoLE.  As well as history, the Humanities AoLE encompasses geography, religious education, business studies and social studies.

The draft Humanities AoLE does not provide specific details of what events in history should or must be taught. This is mainly because the new Curriculum for Wales will be purpose-driven rather than content-driven.  There are no ‘programmes of study’ as there are in the current curriculum and there will be comparatively less prescription of what must be taught.  

The draft statutory guidance on each AoLE will provide a national framework for maintained schools to build on and develop their own curriculum.  It is not intended to be an exhaustive guide or syllabus.  The guidance sets out what schools should take into account in designing their curriculum and how it could be structured and the broad expectations for learners at each progression step. 

The draft Humanities AOLE states that it supports learners to:

develop an understanding of Wales and their own understanding of what it means to be Welsh.

It also states that ‘schools and teachers should … ensure that they select content that:

allows learners to gain a thorough understanding of their locality, of Wales and the wider world.

In the description of what learners should be able to do at various ages within the new curriculum, there are several references to:

 focusing on my locality, Wales and the wider world in the past and present.

As well as the six AoLEs, the new curriculum has three cross-curricular responsibilities (literacy, numeracy and digital competence) and also cross cutting-elements, including the ‘Welsh dimension and international perspective’. The draft guidance states that:

The Welsh dimension and international perspective are integral to all disciplines within the Humanities Area of Learning and Experience. An exploration of Welsh businesses, cultures, history, geography, politics, religions, societies, and world views should form a central part of a learners’ entitlement and include an understanding of the links between these and wider national, European and international contexts. Through Humanities, learners develop a sense of identity and of their own cynefin, as well as an understanding of Wales and its place in the wider world.

Committees’ work on the history of Wales

The Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee ran a public poll during summer 2018, inviting members of the public to select from a list of potential inquiry topics. Nearly 2,500 people participated in the poll. Forty-four per cent voted for ‘Teaching of Welsh history, culture and heritage in schools’.  The Committee held a symposium for stakeholders in February this year, and is continuing to take evidence on this subject.

The National Assembly’s Petitions Committee considered a petition, Change the National Curriculum and teach Welsh history, from a Welsh perspective, in our Primary, Secondary and Sixth form Schools. The Petitions Committee heard evidence from the Petitioner as well as Dr Elin Jones, Chair of the Cwricwlwm Cymreig, history and the story of Wales task and finish group, and the Minister for Education and Skills.  In light of the work being undertaken by the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee, the Petitions Committee closed the petition in November 2018.

In her evidence to the Petitions Committee in July 2017, the Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams said:

The programmes of study in our current curriculum are quite clear in both key stage 2 and key stage 3 about what we would expect them to be teaching our children, and I believe the changes to the GCSE and A-level courses also place greater emphasis on Welsh history.

How to follow the debate

The debate is scheduled for Wednesday 19 June 2019. The Plenary session will be broadcast on Senedd TV and a transcript will be available on the Assembly’s Record of Proceedings.

Article Sian Hughes, Senedd Research, National Assembly for Wales

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