A mistaken approach to history

As an enthusiast for Scottish history, can I sound two notes of caution before we all get too delighted about Michael Forsyth's edict on a Scottish history Standard grade. The first concerns the way it has been done and, related to this, the fact that he seems to be admitting that it is part of some wider political strategy to outflank the SNP and its policy of "independent Europe".

He is thus not only pre-empting the curriculum council's imminent report on the subject, but also making a dangerous departure from the practice of avoiding direct political interference in education. What would have been the reaction if Margaret Thatcher had unilaterally decreed a British history GCSE in the midst of the English national curriculum deliberations, or if Jacques Santer had announced a European history course for schools during the Maastricht negotiations? And why not Standard grades devoted to Scottish geography, modern studies and language and literature?

Second, is a Standard grade devoted to Scottish history really such a good idea? One of the central problems of history in schools is the lack of teaching time to achieve a balance of local, Scottish, British, European and world history - essential for a balanced sense of identity in today's increasingly interdependent world.

It is quite understandable for universities to have Scottish history departments and for students to concentrate on Scottish history. But in schools history is just one of a number of optional subjects, and a relatively small proportion study it at higher levels. A Standard grade exclusively on Scottish history, if compulsory (since schools rather than pupil would choose), would limit pupil's knowledge and, if optional, might even marginalise the subject rather than securing it its rightful place in the mainstream of historical study in Scottish schools.

DUNCAN TOMS Principal teacher of history Bearsden Academy East Dunbartonshire

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