With over 380 members, South Wales is one of our largest and most active branches. We caught up with education lead, Marjorie Page, who runs a number of successful programmes with schools right across the region
From Swansea in the south, to Flintshire in the north, the educational reach of the South Wales branch extends far beyond its Cardiff city base. A lot of that is down to the organisational skills, contacts and commitment of Marjorie Page and her hard-working committee. Marjorie first joined the South Wales branch ten years ago, when she was still working as the English Officer at ACCAC, the Welsh Curriculum and Assessment Authority, and as a local education authority adviser. At that stage, she only had to time to attend the branch’s fundraising literary lunches. But once she semi-retired, she accepted Branch Chairman Derek Morgan’s invitation to lead on the branch’s work with schools – and she hasn’t looked back since.
‘In Wales we have far fewer private schools than in England. We have state schools, and we have a lot of areas of deprivation,’ says Marjorie. ‘The vast majority of children here need something that boosts their self-confidence and gives them the ability to express themselves, and the initiatives of the English-Speaking Union perform that purpose.’
Having worked across Wales in previous roles as an English teacher, an adviser, a schools’ inspector and in curriculum development, Marjorie used her contacts to build up a network of schools in several counties. Each year the branch invites these, and other, schools to take part in the regional heats of both the Performing Shakespeare and the Public Speaking Competitions, with free training days offered ahead of the latter.
‘That was my initiative,’ says Marjorie. ‘I did it myself for the first year or so, but I have a daughter who is also an English teacher who works with me now. We spend a whole day with a group of between 20 and 30 children. There’s no obligation to the school, but we hope they then enter our competition heats in the autumn, and most of the time they do.’
The South Wales branch also offers a series of primary school speaking and listening workshops, leading up to a junior public speaking competition. This is the work that Marjorie is proudest of. ‘The children have no inhibitions at that age, and the earlier you can get them used to doing this sort of thing, the better.’ Having started out with one group of schools in Cardiff, the programme has expanded to reach several hundred children across South Wales. ‘We run workshops in three areas for ten schools in each, with ten children from each school coming, so those days can get a bit chaotic!’ she says. These schools then go on to pick a team of three for the competition, run along the same lines as the senior public speaking competition.
‘The kids really benefit from the training,’ says Marjorie, ‘and they really enjoy it.’ Of course there are always challenges and Marjorie struggles to find volunteers who have the time to commit to the branch’s ambitious plans. But despite this, its scope is impressive, and Marjorie has high praise for her committee. ‘A lot of people are involved in organising these competitions and they’re all giving their time for free. I’m very grateful to them all for the work they do. It’s not just me!’
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