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Welsh History Review

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Vol. 16, nos. 1-4 1992-93

The 'bilingual difficulty' : H.M.I. and the Welsh language in the Victorian age /

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THE 'BILINGUAL DIFFICULTY': H.M.I. AND THE
WELSH LANGUAGE IN THE VICTORIAN AGE
It is a small but important tragedy if the H. M. I. goes away. Over 150
years the H.M.I, has been a force for good in education because it has
reported objectively what is actually going on and because it has been
a body of men and women who knew what they were talking about.
(Eric Bolton, formerly Senior Chief H.M.I., October, 1991)1
GOVERNMENT proposals in 1991-92 to change the traditional inspection role
of Her Majesty's inspectorate of schools aroused widespread concern. Critics
of the proposed changes argued that for many years Her Majesty's
Inspectorate had earned the respect of the teaching profession and all those
concerned with education. It was contended that the Inspectorate was the
embodiment of objectivity, fairness and enlightened guidance concerning the
state of schools and standards of teaching and learning.2
While politicians determine the future of the Inspectorate, it is the task of
the historian to unravel its past. In Wales, with the exception of the work of
Sir O. M. Edwards as chief inspector, Board of Education (Welsh
Department), 1907-20, the role of the Inspectorate has been neglected by
historians. In particular, the inspectors' reports merit attention both for
their valuable insights into educational conditions and attitudes, and also for
their importance in the study of the social history of the Welsh language, and
especially of the relationship between minority and majority languages.
From the standpoint of the Welsh language, the first half-century of the
Inspectorate's history was not an encouraging era. The original instructions
to Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools in 1840 had stipulated that 'inspection
is not intended as a means of exercising control, but of affording
assistance'.4 In Wales, however, over the next fifty years, the evidence of
the inspectors' reports shows that the Welsh language was to be subject to
rigorous controls at the behest of H.M.I. Its policy concerning the Welsh
The Guardian, 3 October 1991.
2 W. G. Evans, 'History has its lessons', Western Mail, 11 December 1991.
The few exceptions are Geraint Bowen, 'Yr Arolygiaeth a'r Gymraeg'. Y Faner, 22, 29 Gorffennaf.
1977; E. N. Williams in W. G. Evans (ed.), Perspectives on a Century of Secondary Education in Wales
(Aberystwyth, 1990); J. E. Hughes, Arloeswr Dwyieithedd: Dan Isaac Davies, 1829-1887 (Cardiff 1984); E.
D. Jones, 'The Journal of William Roberts 'Nefydd', 1853-62'. Nat. Lib. Wales Journal, III (1953-541
199-220.
4 Minutes of the Committee of Council (1840-1), pp. 1 par. 5.
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