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Cornwall County Council


Cornish Language Study

Educational Provision


Respondents in this study frequently raised the issue of educational provision for Cornish as a "problem area". The future prospects for the language were seen as very much bound up with opportunities to learn it in both adult and school-level education. The development of pre-school and primary education through the medium of the language has been a means of Welsh regaining demographic normality, and of encouraging demographic development for both Gaelic and Irish.

Adult Education Classes

The Situation Pre-1980

There had been adult education classes in Cornish in both Cornwall and London before the war. These were conducted by Morton Nance at St. Ives and elsewhere by A.S.D. Smith. In 1933 Smith noted classes in seven Cornish towns, involving 60 adult learners A correspondence circle was started by Smith at this time, and continued by F. B. Cargeeg. In some form this continued throughout the war years. (61) In London in the pre-war years classes were conducted by A. V. Allin-Collins and Trelawney Roberts. (62) In the post-war period classes resumed in Cornwall, and in London at the City Lit.

In 1967 the Cornish Language Board was set up by the Gorseth and the Old Cornwall Federation. This took over the business of running examinations in Cornish which the Gorseth had previously itself undertaken. These examinations were in three grades, with proficiency being marked by being received by the Gorseth as a language bard. Initially the examinations were at three grades with a language proficiency test, taking students to a little beyond GCE 0-Level equivalent.

Adult Education Over The Past Twenty Years

The 1984 Report on the State of the Language notes that by 1983/84 the numbers of adult education classes in Cornwall had increased to eighteen, in: Falmouth, Bodmin, Camborne, Saltash, Hayle, Helston, Launceston, St Just, Padstow, Lostwithiel, Liskeard, Penzance, Torpoint, Perranporth, St. Austell, Newlyn East, Truro, and Newquay. Outwith Cornwall classes were being held in Taunton, Bristol, London, Rennes (Brittany) and in South Australia. (63) (See Appendix F)

The Language Board was producing grammars and learning materials for its then three grades of language proficiency and was conducting examinations. These provided some incentive and yardstick for students' progress. The 1984 Report also provided details of the successes at these grades between 1968-1983. Overall these indicate increasing numbers and proficiency. Total passes at the respective grades rose from 20, 25 and 26 in 1968-1970 to 93, 61 and 59 in 1981-83. (64)

The examinations are now organised across four grades, with additional focus on culture and history (these highest grades are taken as equivalent to everyday fluency as in section 2.5.2). More recently a fifth grade has been introduced under the aegis of the Institute of Linguists. This equates to first year degree level proficiency.

The present study was able to identify thirty-six formally organised classes in Cornwall. Sixteen classes taught Kemmyn, at: Callington, Four Lanes, Grampound Road, Helston, Jacobstowe, Launceston, Liskeard, The Lizard, Looe, Lostwithiel, Mullion, Penzance, Pool, Saltash, St. Austell, and Truro. Nine classes were organised in Unified, at: Bodmin, Bude, Camborne, Newlyn, Penryn, Penzance (two classes), St Austell and St. Just. There were eleven classes in Late/Modern Cornish, at: Falmouth, Menheniot, Pendeen (two classes), Redruth, St. Agnes, St. Austell, St. Ives, Troon, and Truro (two classes). Membership figures for 28 of these groups totalled 284, suggesting an estimated 365 total enrolment in all classes. (65) (See also: Table 3.2 and Appendix F)

Other learners may be attending Goel an Yeth (the language week organised for Kemmyn), Penseythun Kernewek (the language weekend in Unified), and the Late/Modern Cornish language days. Other informal classes and self-help groups were also reported, which altogether would almost certainly bring the total to the estimates of 445 learners provided by the three main language groups (see Chapter 3). Outwith Cornwall there are classes in London at three levels at the City Lit (in Kemmyn), at Bristol (in Unified) and in Australia. Tutors are generally well experienced often as longstanding language bards, with Language Board qualifications at highest grades. Otherwise teachers are professionally qualified or, in at least one case, hold the City & Guilds Further Education Teachers Certificate C&G 730.

The classes are generally small groups which do not muster the minimum numbers for a college or other adult education class. Most meet in pubs, peoples' homes, village halls and the like. In the cases above of two class groups, some separate provision for beginners and more advanced students has been possible, although classes are generally mixed in ability. Classes are meeting in college premises at Falmouth, Pool, Penryn, St Austell and Truro.

For Kemmyn and Unified Cornish the Language Board provides an examination scheme, which extended to a fourth grade from 1989, which takes account of Cornish literature and culture, and more recently an advanced Level Five, in conjunction with the Institute of Linguists and which can function as the first part of a degree course. Moderation and validation are provided by the Modern Languages Advisor of the Cornwall Education Authority, and there are active links with the Welsh Language Board and examinations authority. In recent years total passes at Grades 1-4 at the Cornish Language Board's examinations have totalled 90 in 1997, 76 in 1998 and 61 in 1999. (66)

The adult education classes in Late/Modern Cornish are not on the whole geared towards examinations as such. Classes at Truro have utilised an NVQ-type of attainment testing validated by CENTRA, a Lancashire-based organisation. This body has now merged with several others, including the South West Association for Education and Training, into the Awarding Body Consortium through which the scheme is now operated. This involves about half the class enrolment. Otherwise with Late/Modern Cornish the examination scheme is not so well developed. However the Cornish Language Council is considering a scheme on similar lines to the 'GCE-equivalent' attainment scheme of the Welsh Joint Education Committee. Age-profiles of learners are generally reported as predominantly middle-aged (65% in 30s and 40s, with perhaps 10% aged under 30, and 25% aged 50 and over).

Kernewek dre Lyther (Cornish by Correspondence) was established in 1982/83 and has been organised to date by Ray Edwards of Sutton Coldfield. After its first year of operation it had 19 enrolments, of whom only four were resident in Cornwall, and the remainder elsewhere in the UK and worldwide. By 1989 enrolments had increased to 130, and by 1999 to 297 - the 1990s showing particularly steady growth of interest year on year. (67) Correspondence tuition is also organised by Agan Tavas in Unified Cornish, and by Teer ha Tavaz for Late/Modern Cornish. In the cases of Kemmyn and Unified Cornish these schemes are linked to the Language Board examinations, as with their adult classes generally.

The Cornish Language in Schools

Earlier Developments

In the early revival, Cornish was introduced into local authority schools by revivalists like Edwin Chirgwin who were also teachers. In the post-war period Cornish language was taught at E. G. Retallack Hooper's private Mount Pleasant House School in Camborne. In the course of time it became possible to take Cornish at secondary level through a GCSE Mode 3 scheme which was operated by the Welsh Board. Cornish began to feature in the local authority system where there were teachers able and interested to teach it - as at Helston where Richard Gendall taught languages for many years.

Before the 1980s the number of schools teaching Cornish was very small, involving only a handful of pupils.

The 1984 State of the Language Report noted seven schools where Cornish had been taught up to that time. Five were at primary level: Saltash, St Stephen's by Saltash, Bodmin, Troon and Camborne. There were only two secondary schools reporting as teaching the language: at Camborne and Liskeard. (See Appendix F)

With the increasing economies in education and local government, and subsequently the introduction of the National Curriculum and local management of schools, the subject teaching of Cornish was reported as increasingly difficult to organise - or to find a place for Cornish Studies within an increasingly crowded curriculum. The language continued in some places as a lunch break or after school activity or club.

Cornish In Schools Today

For the purposes of the present study a survey was undertaken by the Modern Languages Advisor who circulated all local authority schools regarding their present (1999/2000) provision for Cornish language. This varied from school to school.

Although Cornish is taught in Cornwall's schools, those that do so are few in number, and involve a relatively small number of pupils. Current provision is generally extra-curricular in the form of lunchtime or after-school classes and clubs. With the devolution of resource management and policy to schools, provision for Cornish language is now a matter for individual schools rather than overall local authority direction. However the education authority has a policy and resource document on Cornish Studies in schools, and the language features within this. Modern languages policy is supportive of Cornish and assists initiatives in the language in various ways, such as validation and moderation. Teaching resources include the authority's own Cornish Studies pack, and a Cornish language pack.

In many cases Cornish is taught by one of the school's own teachers, and sometimes as part of the Cornish Studies programme. In other cases there is a visiting teacher who is paid from school funds or from charges made for extra-curricular activities. Funding difficulties can hinder these developments, as can the availability of suitably qualified teachers.


At primary level some form of actual teaching of the language was reported at 12 schools, as follows:

Some primary schools (such as Foxhole, Penryn and Lanlivery) reported past activity and would like to re-introduce Cornish. At Boskenwyn a Cornish grace is used at meals and pupils learn Cornish songs. The school has a Cornish motto. Suitable textbooks and a resource pack and video for teachers without specific language ability were identified as priorities for provision if the language is to expand in schools.


At the secondary stage, four schools were identified as providing teaching in Cornish.

Between 1985 and 1988 there was a GCE scheme for Cornish Language under the school's own scheme at Pool. There were two or three successful candidates each year. Between 1988 and 1996 this was superseded by a GCSE scheme. This was organised under the Southern Examining Board until 1991. It was then taken over by the Welsh Board and ran until 1996. Over this period there were 42 successful candidates - but this rate was insufficient to ensure its continuation. Pupils at the above four secondary schools now take the Language Board examinations (presentations and passes details were not communicated in survey returns). Examinations are moderated through the County Education Authority's Advisor for Modern Languages and validated by the QCA.

Cornish Studies and Cornish Language Research in Higher Education

Cornish in primary and secondary school-level education do not provide a basis for Cornish as a subject area in its own right in Higher Education. There are no degree schemes in Cornish Language anywhere - let alone degree schemes taught through the medium of Cornish, as there are in Welsh, Irish and Gaelic contexts. Cornish has been taught as a subject in the University of Wales at Aberystwyth and Lampeter.

In 1972 the Institute of Cornish Studies was established by the University of Exeter and Cornwall County Council. It is located in Truro, with a permanent staff of director, secretary and full time research fellows. It produces an academic journal, 'Cornish Studies' which reflects its work, encompassing not only archaeology and history (the specialities of the Institute's first and current directors) but also language and culture, natural history and the environment, social and economic fields. It has developed new perspectives in cultural history, the Cornish language and its revival, migration and social issues such as housing and health in Cornwall, Cornish literature and tourism. Research staff are currently involved in language, cultural studies, politics, mining and natural history research.

The University of Exeter has recently introduced two higher degree schemes through the Institute of Cornish Studies: an M.A. in Cornish Studies and an M.A. in Celtic Studies. These degrees may include Cornish language studies.

The Cornish Language Board has an active concern with linguistic research into Cornish language: its historic forms, lexicon, grammar, and onomastics. It has working parties in these fields and actively develops links with academic institutions and research initiatives. The Board has sponsored a new academic journal - one exclusively devoted to research into Cornish language: 'Agan Yeth - Cornish Language Studies'. Its first issue appeared in October 1999 and carried high quality articles reviewing Gendall's Practical Dictionary of Modern Cornish, Ute Hirner's dissertation on the sociolinguistics of Cornish and Welsh, an article by Rod Lyon in Cornish on Cornish playing-places, and the Cornish Bible Project by Keith Syed. A second number is currently in preparation.

The other language-movements are also involved in research: Unified through Nicholas Williams at Dublin, and Late/Modern Cornish through the work of Richard Gendall.


There have been attempts to start a Cornish-language playgroup for pre-school infants. These efforts have been frustrated by the territorial distribution of the parents themselves. It has meant that there has never been sufficient critical mass in any one area to sustain a viable group. To overcome this, organisations such as Dalleth and Agan Tavas have developed support materials.

The presence of Cornish in the primary stage is heavily dependent upon the presence of a Cornish-speaking teacher, the sympathy of school staff, local management resource budgets, and especially head teachers. This study reports parental demand for Cornish as a second language in the school system but it is again distributed across many catchment areas, and a 'critical mass' calling for provision has been diluted by distance - unlike the more concentrated demands experienced in the Northern Irish, Gaelic and Welsh contexts.

Where Cornish is taught as part of the integral school curriculum (as at Wendron, St. Mawes, Treyew and St. Neot), it is taught to whole year and key stage groups - and hence to all pupils as they pass through these stages. Otherwise where there is only a lunchtime or after-school class or club the numbers involved are relatively small.

Without a developed playgroup stage, prospects for wider provision of Cornish in primary schooling are more difficult - let alone a Cornish-medium primary stage being established in the foreseeable future. However, Cornish as a second language should be a feasible proposition - as has long been the case for the other Celtic languages in their respective countries. These all make provisions for their languages within the Core Curriculum in the cases of the National Curriculum in Wales generally and Northern Ireland where Irish features in its schools, and the Curriculum and Assessment Working Paper Gaelic 5-14 in Scotland.

For the language to progress within the education system it needs to be more clearly indicated within the schools curriculum, as the other Celtic languages are within their own systems. In order for it to be more widely taught, with some place for it within the school day as well as in extra-curricular classes and clubs, it would need the support of properly resourced and remunerated peripatetic teachers. Where teachers without Cornish language proficiency wished to introduce the language, resource packages and videos would be required. To provide these would require funding and resourcing. A decision would also have to be made concerning the form of Cornish to be used in these classes.

The difficulties in restoring a state-recognised schools level examination were also identified by our consultees as a problem for the advancement of Cornish as a school subject, especially at secondary level. Local management of schools was also frequently cited as a difficulty in making a place for Cornish within school life, and finding resources for it. However, in other Celtic countries greater local autonomy has often been seen as the means whereby enhanced provision for the language has been secured.

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Last revised - 19th July 2004
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