10/11/2011 06:57 GMT | Updated 10/01/2012 05:12 GMT

'Can He Speak English?' Westminster Official Asks Welsh Teacher And Former Union President

A Welsh teaching union leader was left reeling from a question posed by a Department for Education official regarding whether or not her predecessor, who is also a teacher, could "speak English".

The incident happened after a long-fought struggle to include a Welsh focus group in discussions over teachers' pay and conditions.

Elaine Edwards, general secretary of Wales' teaching union UCAC, said there was an "ignorance about Wales" emerging from Westminster, which called London's understanding of Welsh devolution into question.

Changes to professional standards are currently being debated, which would affect all teachers in both England and Wales. Yet the regional focus groups held by the DfE to discuss the proposals did not initially include any groups in Wales.

After warning senior officials against alienating more than 38,000 teachers, Edwards managed to secure a Welsh focus group.

The general secretary nominated a teacher from a Welsh-medium school, who was also a former president of UCAC, to join the group.

Despite assuring the official the Welshman, who actually teaches English at the school, would converse with the DfE in English, Edwards was twice asked: "And can he speak English?"

Edwards told a Welsh paper: "I was astounded by the question".

A spokesperson for UCAC told the Huffington Post UK "The incident reflects deeper attitudes towards Wales. It seems as if we are considered merely as an add-on or an after-thought. It was quite shocking really. None of us could believe it.

"It really poses the question as to whether the responsibility for education in Wales should still be in Westminster's hands."

The Welsh Assembly Government gained extra powers from Westminster after a referendum last March. Although the assembly can now exercise greater authority over education, the power to dictate teachers' pay and pension conditions still rests with the coalition government. Edwards is campaigning for further devolved powers for Wales in education.

Read more on the importance of the Welsh language in Wales here.

The DfE refused to comment.