“For Wales: See England”: Unsilencing Welsh History in Schools

Abstract: Welsh history continues to be seldom taught in schools due to a variety of issues, including geography, limited subject expertise, a dearth of textbooks, and the absence of a coherent, linear historical narrative free from the influence of identity in Wales. As a result, Welsh history is frequently taught in Wales from a British or English perspective, and it is unequivocally not as prevalent in England.
DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1515/phw-2023-21665
Languages: English

The Encyclopaedia Britannica infamously read in 1888, ‘For Wales, see England,’ revealing the lack of understanding of the cultural distinctions between England and Wales. In the context of history education, this depiction is still present. This paper discusses some of the obstacles to the teaching of Welsh history, arising from its linguistic and identity-related complexity, and draws attention to how little it is taught due to its somewhat tricky nature.


An Analysis of Public Examinations

Welsh history will be compulsory to teach from September 2023, one of several significant changes that have recently occurred in the country’s history teaching. While Welsh history has not been entirely lacking, a review of  public examination requirements in England and Wales reveals that it still lags behind English, European, and global histories.[1] Questions arise, therefore, about what can be treated as Welsh, British, European, or World history.

A comparison of course outlines in England and Wales demonstrates a sharp discrepancy in the significance accorded to Welsh history. Four units of content are divided within Wales, with Units 1 and 3 requiring the integration of a Welsh perspective, “if the opportunity arises naturally from the subject matter and it its inclusion would enrich learners’ understanding of the world around them as citizens of Wales as well as the UK, Europe and the world”,[2] employing parallel lenses as a result. In English exam boards, there is no such parallel.

Table 1 compares coverage of medieval, early modern and modern topics in exclusively Welsh examinations (the first row in each case) and in examinations available outside Wales (the remaining rows).

Exam Board British Topics British and Welsh Topics Welsh Topics World Topics
WJEC[3] 7 4
WJEC Eduqas[4] 9 6
Edexcel 13 8
AQA 9 1 9
OCR 10 5

Table 1: Coverage of Welsh and non-Welsh History

Lack of Welsh History in Wales

Welsh history has been taught in schools since 1989, beginning when Professor Rees Davies, a well-known Welsh historian and head of Wales’ National Curriculum History Committee, advocated for its inclusion.[5] In 1995, the Cwricwlwm Cymreig[6] outlined that it was a statutory requirement for pupils to be provided with “opportunities, where appropriate in their studies to develop and apply knowledge and understanding of cultural, economic, historical and linguistic characteristics of Wales.”[7]

Concerns regarding the quality of Welsh history instruction were raised in 2019, as Dr Elin Jones concluded that Welsh pupils were being deprived and “robbed of the opportunity to learn about their own country.”[8] However, the report on Teaching of Welsh History acknowledged that although the new curriculum documents gave Welsh history more attention, it was taught in the framework of “British history,” which led to the addition of “tokenistic Welsh history elements.”[9] By 2021, Estyn voiced concerns about the competence and inclination to teach Welsh history as well as observing that students had differing experiences based on the schools they attended, with many of them having “little knowledge” of Welsh history.[10]

The revised Curriculum for Wales has been prepared in response to the study Successful Futures (2015), and will be mandated from September 2023. Welsh history must be taught in an explicit manner in the new curriculum.[11] However, the Owain Glyndwr Society and Dyfodol i’r Iaith[12] highlighted a concern that different subjects may be covered in different regions across the nation as there are no guidelines for what events must be taught, which could result in inconsistency and emphasis on local rather than national history. Pupils attending school in South Wales, for example, may gain in-depth knowledge of coal industry while pupils in Gwynedd may gain in-depth knowledge of the slate industry, with little understanding beyond their respective regions.

The new curriculum presents opportunities to improve the teaching of Welsh history, nevertheless, there is tension due to the scarcity of knowledge, instruction, and materials on key Welsh historical themes in their local, British, and worldwide contexts.

Absence of Welsh History in England

English curricula hide Welsh history. For instance, ‘Edexcel: Henry VIII and his ministers, 1509-40,’ fails to explicitly address the Act of Union with Wales of 1536. The exception is ‘AQA: Edward I’s rule in mediaeval England, 1272-1307’ which does clarify the manner by which Wales was invaded and colonised. Exam boards want pupils to understand ‘British’ history but do not fully appreciate that the term ‘Britain’ has a unique position in Welsh history.

Welsh historians, for centuries, have celebrated the Welsh as the true ancient Britons. There is also the lack of consideration of the complex nature of Welsh identity, especially following Henry Tudor’s accession to the throne which resulted in a sense of dual identity – both British and Welsh. Britishness remains a debated and contentious issue in cultural and political spheres.[13] Specific events are transnational and cannot be treated separately, for example, the Reformation in Wales or the delayed Norman invasion in Wales are both absent in English specifications.

The one example of Welsh history present in English GCSE presents a history of conquest and potentially (?) portrays Welsh identity as inferior rather than celebrating and acknowledging histories of diversity and complexity. ‘Britain’ papers fail to adopt Welsh history, despite the annexation of Wales to England from 1536, illustrating the complexity and problematic nature of the existence of ‘British’ and ‘Welsh’ histories.

Issues with Teaching Welsh History

Curriculum designers face an impossible task, especially when it comes to Welsh history and British history. Wales is a diverse country with the sense of Welshness having different meanings. There is no single national story to tell, it is complex and vast, causing tensions as to what pupils should or must know. For example, the Welsh diaspora is not bound by geography. Welsh history highlights positive interactions with England, such as industrial trade but, also, uneasy interactions, for example medieval conquest.

Curriculum designers and teachers must understand the complexity of Welsh history, for example:

  • That Wales is a distinct and devolved nation
  • 1282: Conquest of Wales by Edward I and the position of language and culture
  • 1536: Wales was politically and legally incorporated into England
  • That Wales retained its cultural identity
  • That Welsh and English history coexist
  • The complex nature of dual identity in Wales

Complexity results in parallel narratives. Welsh rulers and kingdoms, for instance, prevented a unified Welsh narrative emerging before or after annexation (1282) and the 1536 Act of Union. Prior to the rise of Welsh nationalism in the 1960s, a dual identity was encouraged from the 16th century, as seen in the teaching materials created during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.[14] The Welsh language and its role in identity remains a contentious issue[15] and Wales is the least incorporated into the four nations of the UK.

One of the reasons for the success of English history is the fact that it can plausibly be fashioned into a simple narrative. But Britain – England, Scotland, and Wales – is plural. The juxtapositioning of British and Welsh history implies homogeneity in the experiences of the former and its separateness from the latter, but the two are entwined. There are challenges to teaching British history as there is no real vantage point from which to survey it.[16]  However, that does not mean that Welsh history should be silenced. That depends on the enquiry and on who we focus on and whether we search for interactions or dissonance. These complexities and changes are silenced as Welsh history is not given a significant role in British history by any of the exam boards.

To teach Welsh history in the classroom, teachers need specialised training, and strong learning resources, and if this is true for schools in Wales, then all the more so for schools in England. Compared to English history, Welsh history lacks teaching resources. This could lead teachers in England to avoiding Welsh history all together and to teachers in Wales stagnating and taking Anglo- and Britain-centric tokenistic approaches. We need resources that are locally appropriate if we are to highlight complexity of Welsh history, for example, areas that identify as British rather than Welsh.[17]

Teachers require training to move away from a British approach in both England and Wales with greater promotion of Wales’ histories of racial, religious, and cultural diversity.  Without these changes Welsh history will remain absent from English curricula and stagnant in Welsh curricula.

A British Metanarrative

Pocock challenged the tokenistic inclusion of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales in ‘English’ narratives,[18] a lack of histories of Britain and the dominance of ‘histories of England’ in which the Welsh, Scottish and Irish appeared “when, and only when, their” actions disturbed “the tenor of English politics.”[19] Parallel problems are evident in GCSE history. Anglocentrism poses a risk of denying separate histories and separate identities. In the 1990s, historians began to place events into their ‘British’ context, and to tease out forgotten narratives through ‘multiperspectival history’.

However, emphasis on British history can result in a British metanarrative that partitions non-English parts into a Celtic fringe, discounting their dissimilarities and sustaining an English-looking core. Attempts to construct a four nations narrative comes up against the demographic and political weight of England, questioning the extent to which England and Englishness can be separated from a broader British identity.

Comparison is one way to capture the intricate historical connections between these islands and to address their asymmetry and transnationality. ‘British’ history must be about more than the creation of Britain. To move away from the tokenistic, inclusive history should aim to explore interaction rather than integration across and within national boundaries. There are local and national levels to British contexts that must be established i.e., when political actors in England appear to be reacting to developments in Wales, they were reacting to in ways that were structured by the context of their own historical experience. Events reverberated out from multiple centres and peripheries.

As it stands, Welsh history in Wales is undergoing reform, while Welsh history in England calls for presence. This is not to impose symmetry upon the history of the United Kingdom, but rather to seek more pluralistic narratives.


Further Reading

  • Davies, John. A History of Wales. London: Penguin Books, 2007.
  • Johnes, Martin. Wales: England’s Colony? Cardigan: Parthian Books, 2019.
  • Jones, Elin. History Grounded. Llanrwst: Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 2021.
  • Lloyd-Jones, N., and M. Scull. “Four Nations Approaches to Modern ‘British’ History: A (Dis)United Kingdom?” London: UCL Press, 2017.

Web Resources


[1] I am referring to the General Certificate of Secondary Education, a public exam taken at 16-years-old.
[2]  Welsh Joint Education Committee, WJEC GCSE in History (2017), p.6.
https://www.wjec.co.uk/media/gzsn4pg5/wjec-gcse-history-spec-from-2017-e.pdf (Last accessed: 20 May 2023).
[3] The WJEC brand is used only for qualifications regulated by Qualifications Wales.
[4] Eduqas brand can be used for qualification outside of Wales.
[5] R. Phillips, ‘History Teaching, nationhood and politics in England and Wales in the late twentieth century: a historical comparison,’ History of Education. 28, no.3 (1999), pp.351-363.
[6] The Welsh dimension of the curriculum in Wales became statutory in 1995
[7] P. Elfed-Owens and R. Daugherty, ‘A National Curriculum for Wales: A Case Study of Education Policy‐Making in the Era of Administrative Devolution,’ British Journal of Educational Studies 5, no.3 (2003), pp. 233 – 253.
[8] National Assembly for Wales Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee, Teaching of Welsh History (2019). Available from:
https://senedd.wales/laid%20documents/cr-ld12870/cr-ld12870%20-e.pdf (Last accessed: 20 May 2023).
[9] Ibid, p.9.
[10] Estyn, The teaching of Welsh history including Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic history, identity and culture (2021). Available from:
https://www.estyn.gov.wales/thematic-report/teaching-welsh-history-including-black-asian-and-minority-ethnic-history-identity (Last accessed: 20 May 2023).
[11] Jeremy Miles – 2022 Statement on Welsh History in the Curriculum for Wales Available from:
https://www.ukpol.co.uk/jeremy-miles-2022-statement-on-welsh-history-in-the-curriculum-for-wales/ (Last accessed: 20 May 2023).
[12] A non-party political organisation in Wales that works to ensure that the Welsh language occupies a central role in Welsh life and remains a priority on the political agenda
[13] S. Brooks, Why Wales Never Was: The Failure of Welsh Nationalism (Cardiff, 2017)
[14] Owen Rhoscomyl [Arthur Owen Vaughan], Flame Bearers of Welsh History: Being the Outline of the Story of the ‘Sons of Cunedda (Merthyr Tydfil, 1905); Irene Myrddin Davies, Welsh History: A Handbook for Teachers (Aberystwyth, 1947).
[15] H. Carter, Against the Odds The Survival of Welsh Identity (London, 2010)
[16] Keith Robbins, ‘An imperial and multinational polity. The “scene from the centre,” 1832-1922’, in A. Grant & K.J. Stringer (eds.), Uniting the Kingdoms? The Making of British History (London, 1995)
[17] 2021 Census. Office for National Statistics. Available at:
https://www.ons.gov.uk/releases/welshlanguagecensus2021inwales (Last accessed: 20 May 2023).
[18] J.G.A. Pocock, ‘British History: A Plea for a New Subject,’ Journal of Modern History. 47. 4 (1975), pp. 603-4.
[19] Ibid.


Image Credits

Harlech Castle © 2015 Markus Trienke CC BY-SA-2.0 via Commons.

Recommended Citation

Bruce-Roberts, Rhonwen: “For Wales: See England”: Unsilencing Welsh History in Schools. In: Public History Weekly 11 (2023) 5, DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1515/phw-2023-21665.

Editorial Responsibility

Caitriona Ní Cassaithe / Arthur Chapman

Copyright © 2023 by De Gruyter Oldenbourg and the author, all rights reserved. This work may be copied and redistributed for non-commercial, educational purposes, if permission is granted by the author and usage right holders. For permission please contact the editor-in-chief (see here). All articles are reliably referenced via a DOI, which includes all comments that are considered an integral part of the publication.

The assessments in this article reflect only the perspective of the author. PHW considers itself as a pluralistic debate journal, contributions to discussions are very welcome. Please note our commentary guidelines (https://public-history-weekly.degruyter.com/contribute/).

Categories: 11 (2023) 5
DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1515/phw-2023-21665

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  1. To all readers we recommend the automatic DeepL-Translator for 22 languages. Just copy and paste.


    Presence and Absence

    The article presents a clear view of the presence (and absence) of Welsh history in UK curricula, assessment and teaching materials. The article begins with the English public examinations. The inclusion of the history of Wales is relatively recent (1989), and exposed mostly within British global themes. As from 2023, a specific history of Wales will be compulsory, although the lack of thematic specification has also led to a curious controversy: the topics taught may differ depending on the regional diversity of Wales. The history of Wales is even more diffuse (and hidden according to the author) in the English curriculum, whose themes, in addition to being few, are introduced globally in the British trajectory. To overcome it, the author argues that Wales is a distinct and devolved nation; Wales retained its cultural identity; Welsh and English history coexist; and the complex nature of dual identity in Wales. The article ends with a claim: “This is not to impose symmetry upon the history of the United Kingdom, but rather to seek more pluralistic narratives”.

    The difficult coexistence of multiple narratives of the past, which denote the plurality of a country, is common in States with multiple identities, as is also the case in Spain with Catalonia, and other regions with a co-official language, such as the Basque Country or Galicia (López Facal, 2010). Although these regions underwent the process of recovery and “invention” of the lost past in the second half of the 19th century (Álvarez Junco, 2016), Prys Morgan (2002) indicates that this happened in Wales in the 18th century, in the Romantic period, a time when an old world collapsed and a new one was born.

    The construction of myths from the past for the glorification of the nation or a specific social group has been used by nation-states to justify their existence and pre-eminence (Hobsbawm, 2002). Hobsbawm’s introduction to the Invention of Tradition (2002) argues that many “traditions” which “appear or claim to be old are often quite recent in origin and sometimes invented.” The intellectual roots of Romanticism run deep into the teaching of history in school (VanSledright, 2008), and closely related to the rise of nation-states (Hobsbawm, 1997). To overcome this approach, we should remember the prologue by Raphael Samuel in his book Patriotism: The making and unmaking of British National Identity (1989): “to call in the past, as it were, to redress the balance of the present. Our aim is deconstructive to bring patriotism within the province of rational explanation and historical inquiry”.

    But in addition to the roots of nationalism in the abusive weight of national narratives in the teaching of history, it would also be necessary to insist on the reminiscences that still exist of 19th century historicism. This historiographical approach focused on institutions, political and military leaders. However, almost 100 years ago Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre founded the Annales journal, in response to this historicist approach, and 60 years ago E. P. Thompson wrote in his book The making of the English Working Class (1963): “I am seeking to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the “obsolete” hand-loom weaver, the “utopian” artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity”. When the historical subject is the nation, it can cause these identity conflicts, and they collide with a reality based on multiple identities, and a teaching approach based on multiperspectivity and social history. It is easier to search for shared pasts when the focus of the nation is shifted to women and men in the past, their living conditions, or their common problems.

    For these reasons, it is helpful to refer to the report on quality history teaching published by the Council of Europe in 2018 (COE, 2018). This report was based on guidelines that make it possible to propose a history curriculum based on democratic principles, diversity, and inclusion. Among these guidelines were proposals: to develop flexible curricula and interactive pedagogies that recognize cultural differences; to teach and learn about the complex history of democracy; to pose a social story that reflects the activities of individuals and social groups; to recognize that societies have been nurtured over time by people of different cultural, religious and ethnic origins; to introduce controversial topics in the classroom; to value multiple identities; and to provide students intellectual tools to evaluate historical sources. Perhaps these are productive ways forward.


    Álvarez Junco, J. “Dioses útiles. Naciones y nacionalismos.” (Barcelona: Galaxia Gutenberg, 2016).
    Carretero, M. “Constructing Patriotism: Teaching History and Memories in Global Worlds.” Advances in Cultural Psychology: Constructing Human Development. (Charlotte: Information Age Publishing, 2011).
    Council of Europe. “Quality history education in the 21st century. Principles and guidelines.” Accessed June 8, 2023. https://edoc.coe.int/en/teaching-history/7754-quality-history-education-in-the-21st-century-principles-and-guidelines.html.
    Hobsbawm, E. J. “Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality.” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
    Hobsbawm, E. J. “Introducción: la invención de la tradición.” In E. Hobsbawm and T. Rangers, eds., La invención de la tradición, 7-21. (Barcelona: Crítica, 2002).
    López Facal, R. “Nacionalismos y europeísmos en los libros de texto: identificación e identidad nacional.” Clío y asociados: la historia enseñada 14 (2010): 9-13. doi:10.14409/cya.v1i14.1673.
    Morgan, P. “From a Death to a View: la caza del pasado gales en el periodo romántico.” In E. Hobsbawm and T. Rangers, eds., La invención de la tradición, 49-106. (Barcelona: Crítica, 2002).
    Samuel, R., ed. “Patriotism: The making and unmaking of British National Identity. Vol. I. History and politics.” (London: Routledge Revivals, 1989).
    Thompson, E. “The making of English Working Class.” (Toronto: Penguin Books, 1963).
    VanSledright, B. A. “Narratives of Nation-State, Historical Knowledge and School History Education.” Review of Research in Education 32, no. 1 (2008): 109-146.

  2. To all readers we recommend the automatic DeepL-Translator for 22 languages. Just copy and paste.

    At the Mercy of the Market

    The question of how to teach a truly ‘British’ history in always going to face the challenge of England’s sheer size in relation to the other nations of the United Kingdom. Although it is is instinctively, troubling, it is hard for any of us to conceive a British history where England is not a normative centre with a ‘Celtic fringe’. In Scotland, this is dealt with by having both ‘Scottish’ and ‘British’ History topics. However, as Arthur Chapman and I show elsewhere in this edition of PHW, this is hardly satisfying. England and Scotland share an island – what makes a topic ‘Scottish’, rather than British? Why is the Act of Union between England and Scotland treated as a ‘Scottish’ topic when it created the constitutional arrangement that we refer to as ‘British’?

    The Scottish example shows us that allocating certain ‘topics’ to ‘British History’ and others to ‘Scottish History’ is unsatisfying, arbitrary and ahistorical. But it is a solution – albeit an imperfect one – to the apparent inevitability that English history too readily overshadows the histories of other British nations. Like so much in schools, this is a resourcing issue. Making a curriculum which is multi-centred and multi-perspectival is a challenge for any school, and they need textbooks and resources which explore how this might be done. We are somewhat at the mercy of the market here – part of the reason for including discrete Scottish topics in Scottish examinations was that this would create a market for text-book publishers to write Scottish textbooks. We would like the impetus for more integrated British history to come from grassroots teachers, but I wonder if progress is possible without significant investment and expertise from elsewhere.

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