Radical steps needed in Higher history

Peter Wright

The new Higher history exam, with its compulsory section on Scottish history, which has been approved by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, will do nothing to address the problems of "pop-up Scottish history teaching on a variety of unrelated themes", as Tom Devine has put it.

Higher history attracted only 8,000 students in 2007. If the scandal of Scotland's lack of self-knowledge is to be addressed, serious measures must be adopted.

The SQA must address the mess that has resulted from the co-existence of Standard grade with recently introduced Intermediate courses. The former benefits from widely understood and rigorous assessment but suffers from advancing age and Scottish content which is less than motivating. The latter has the advantage of greater choice and Scottish content, but an incoherent structure. We need a synthesis between the two.

But, there is good news. History teaching is benefiting from new technology (see page 16). Computer suites, smartboards and data projectors allow pupils access to content in ways undreamt of only 10 years ago.

A Curriculum for Excellence, with its focus on outcomes, provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity. The subject perfectly combines English language development with fashionable "critical skills". And it is impossible to conceive of developing the four capacities without a passing knowledge of past societies and reflecting on their relationship to our own.

It was a primary head who convinced me a decade ago that all young Scots needed to possess an awareness of their country's history. Her school was located in a neglected housing estate, crime and drug dependency was endemic and parents of many pupils were addicts. Yet my colleague convinced me that knowledge of Scotland's rich historical fabric elevated the self-esteem of her pupils in a way no other subject could.

The new Higher in history is a welcome first step, but it must be followed by more radical solutions which do justice to the young people of Scotland.

Peter Wright, Falcon Road, Edinburgh.

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