During the modern period the Welsh language experienced continual decline, as a result of governmental hostility, lack of official recognition, public apathy and the social upheaval of the industrial revolution.
At the turn of the twentieth century, however, as Welsh became a minority language in Wales, there grew an increasing recognition that the school system was key to the safeguarding and revitalisation of the language. Welsh finally became a compulsory language up to GCSE (16+) level in all state schools in Wales in 1999.
The present research project focusses on the parallel development of Welsh medium education, where all, or almost all, subjects are taught through the medium of Welsh. Although by now over one in five Welsh pupils are educated mainly in Welsh, increasing concerns have been voiced concerning the relatively low level of usage of the language by pupils outside school especially in those areas where Welsh is not widely spoken in the community.
The project involved collecting data using a mixed-methods approach with Year 6 and Year 7 (age 10-12 years) pupils, their parents/guardians and school staff members in schools serving diverse areas of Wales. In the case of pupils, this was followed up by focus group discussions to explore the major issues identified in greater depth.
The findings discussed include the overwhelmingly positive attitude to the Welsh language and culture among all categories of participants and a concern about the availability of opportunities to use Welsh outside school. The keen awareness of Welsh identity is also highlighted, as well as both positive experiences of feeling ‘special’ and a sense of alienation from a predominantly non-Welsh speaking community in many parts of Wales.
The study concludes with a consideration of the implications of these and other findings and recommendations for future research and evidence-based action.