A motion at this year's annual general meeting of the NASUWT expressed that we were "fair stammy-gastered" at Mike Russell and his insistence on a list of Scottish set texts for use in the National 5 and Higher examinations. His reply to our letter of concern, which we received last week by coincidence, indicates that the decision was not his, but a recommendation of the Scottish Studies working group which, he claims, "took all views into account in arriving at their decision".
I was not asked to contribute to this group, nor was any teacher of English I know ... so the group could not have known that I studied three Scottish texts with my Higher English class last year; or that I study at least one Scottish text with a Higher or Intermediate 2 class every year; or that, as an SQA critical essay marker for five years, I read hundreds of examination answers on Scottish texts.
The question remains: do we really need compulsion in this area of the curriculum?
Obviously, any list of set texts will provoke debate, some of it healthy. However, to try to argue that the latest version of the set text list for National 5 and Higher English is not restrictive does not stand scrutiny: it excludes one of the Scottish poets I used last year in Higher English and many of the Scottish texts I have marked in examinations over the years. And in the current climate, where we are being encouraged to promote personalisation and choice in pupil learning, this seems a curious path to go down.
If there is a desire to have the compulsory study of Scottish texts, do we really need a small, set list of them?
Finally, concerns remain about the competence of those in charge of this whole process: having been promised an agreed list before the end of this year, the latest version is still labelled "Work in Progress" and we now have to wait until next year for a final, final version; and, embarrassingly, the latest list has managed to include a work which is actually out of print.
As we pointed out in our letter to Mr Russell, NASUWT recognises the importance of developing a sense of Scottish culture and an awareness of our literary tradition in pupils; however, we remain seriously concerned about this current policy, which seems poorly administered and does not appear to be based on accurate research. The cabinet secretary should address these concerns as a matter of urgency.
Mike Corbett, president of NASUWT Scotland and teacher of English.