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The University of Exeter has introduced an undergraduate module in ‘Beginners’ Cornish and has introduced an online Cornish evening class aimed at the wider staff and student population.

“Vast increase” in resources and teacher training needed for Cornish language to be taught in schools, research shows

Offering Cornish lessons in secondary schools will only be possible if there is a “vast increase” in resources and teacher training, research shows.

The language will only succeed within the state education system if it is given status and a place within the school day, as well as properly resourced and paid peripatetic teachers, or resources and retraining for existing teachers within schools. 

The study also shows for Cornish to be attractive to both students and teachers at a secondary level it needs to have a purpose beyond the classroom, opportunities for either examination success or through becoming a requirement for further use beyond secondary education.

The research, presented at the Association of Celtic Students conference using the Cornish language, was carried out by Kensa Broadhurst from the University of Exeter.

Ms Broadhurst said: “For Cornish to succeed at primary level it needs both the support of headteachers and a teacher who is either able to speak Cornish, or to run the sessions. Cornish does not have enough of a stronghold within the primary system in Cornwall either within curriculum time, or as part of a club, due to inadequate manpower, but if school staff become more willing and confident to deliver the language, and less reliant on outside providers, this should continue to grow. 

One of the biggest problems facing those seeking to revive a language is a lack of appropriate teaching materials and qualified teachers. Learning a language solely through the medium of grammar books and dictionaries only gives an artificial flavour of the range of use in a particular language, therefore we should seek to provide as diverse a range of education, and educational materials, as possible to preserve the language as a living being, fit for purpose in our everyday lives and to better reflect the purposes for which it was originally used.”

The study says a marker of success of Cornish in primary schools will be the acceptance of the language as part of the National Curriculum, which says: “teaching may be of any modern or ancient foreign language”.   

Most Cornish language teaching is conducted via adult education. There are also Cornish language nursery schools and bilingual family events.

Before the 1980s, Cornish was reportedly taught in a handful of schools. The introduction of the National Curriculum confined any Cornish language provision to lunchtime and after school clubs, and this was reliant on either volunteer provision, or a keen teacher either able to speak Cornish or use the resources available. 

In 2018, the Welsh examination board, WJEC, introduced entry level and level one examinations in Cornish. These examinations were taken in 2019 by a pilot group of students attending Cornish adult education classes, twenty-six at entry level, and four at level one.  Examinations were put on hold in 2020, but the hope is that further students will sit these and that the level two Cornish qualification will be developed. 

Ms Broadhurst said: “If the number of candidates taking the WJEC examinations continue to rise, a new GCSE might be possible, which in turn could lead to A Level provision.  This could be an attractive proposition to adult learners as well as schools, however the availability of teachers capable of teaching at these levels, and quality educational resources remains an issue.” 

The University of Exeter has introduced an undergraduate module in ‘Beginners’ Cornish and has introduced an online Cornish evening class aimed at the wider staff and student population.  This has proved so popular it has been necessary to run two classes.

Date: 8 December 2021

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