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EducationHolyrood Magazine

Sense of personal history: Scottish studies proposal prompts debate

By 10 February 2012No Comments

The announcement that Scottish Studies are to become compulsory and examinable has aroused the predictable responses.  Labour’s Ken MacIntosh fulminates against “brainwashing children”.  Liz Smith for the Tories, marginally more measured, spoke of “pseudo-nationalist undertones”. 
I should be cheering this proposal.  As an English teacher I always taught Scottish literature.  As a head teacher I strongly supported cross-curricular Scottish projects and the active celebration of our national culture.  Understanding and appreciating one’s own roots is crucial to building collective and individual confidence.  I might even, given my post-graduate degree in Scottish Studies, be able to play an active role in the development and design of Scottish Studies courses – but I am concerned.
Firstly, Liz Smith posed one entirely valid question.  If Scottish Studies are to be made compulsory, what is to be omitted?
It is a recurring theme of our political masters: identify a problem, ‘solve’ it by injecting an antidote to the problem into school, withdraw nothing to make space for it, and complain when standards in the diluted areas fall.
It happened when both IT and the two compulsory hours of PE were introduced; it’s about to happen when two languages, plus native language, are made compulsory; and now Scottish Studies: what will go?  Either a dose of common sense is injected or there will be a further debasement of the quality of learning and of levels of attainment.
There is another issue.  Where do Scottish Studies fit into Curriculum for Excellence? At one level it is already clear.   The experiences and outcomes have been written.  In dealing with literacy in English, Curriculum for Excellence is explicit: “The languages, dialects and literature of Scotland provide a rich resource for children and young people to learn about Scotland’s culture, identity and language. Through engaging with a wide range of texts they will develop an appreciation of Scotland’s vibrant literary and linguistic heritage and its indigenous languages and dialects.”  Couldn’t put it better myself.
Similarly, in social studies, the Scottish dimension is not only explicit.  It is noted first.  “Learning in the social studies will enable me to develop my understanding of the history, heritage and culture of Scotland, and an appreciation of my local and national heritage within the world.”  Who could disagree?
There is no need to create a new curriculum area for Scottish Studies.  It is already there.  There is certainly no need to create a new examination.
Scottish Studies should be treated similarly to areas such as health and well-being and IT, something which ought to suffuse the curriculum across subjects.  Indeed if Scottish Studies focuses on English, Gàidhlig, history and geography, it omits other key areas of Scottish culture: art, music, religion.
There are two other contentious aspects of this.  The first is the compulsion.  Choice is of the essence in education.  Young people, especially 16-18 year olds, should not be forced into subject areas against their will.  It’s not a liberal issue of freedom.  It’s a recognition that commitment to the content is a prerequisite of successful study.  The second issue is the proposal to make Scottish Studies discreetly examinable. Far better to insist that there will be a specifically Scottish examinable element in several key subjects, including English and History with, perhaps, optional, examinable Scottish units, in geography, RMPS, modern studies.  The issue of Gàidhlig is a separate.  It needs withdrawn from this debate lest a few Gàidhlig babies get lost with the Scottish Studies bathwater.
Yes, let’s have Scottish Studies, across the curriculum and integrated into Curriculum for Excellence.
The above article first appeared in Holyrood Magazine on17 October 2011:

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