Call for Scots texts to be made compulsory in literature exam

28th January 2011 at 00:00
Language experts urge Government to make Scottish literary heritage integral to qualifications

A group of experts on the Scots language has called for the Government to end "generations of neglect" and make it compulsory for Scots texts to be included in SQA exams.

The group of nearly 100 academics and writers delivered an open letter to Education Secretary Michael Russell on Burns' Day this week. In it, they outlined what they believe would be necessary to give Scots the status it deserves in the classroom.

The letter argues that well-meaning statements from the Government were no longer enough, and action and investment were required urgently.

"We have sympathy and support from the current Government and the minister, but at the end of the day there is still no more money available for the provision of Scots than there was at the beginning of devolution and there is no practical plan of action, other than putting fine words into curricular documents," John Hodgart, one of the authors of the letter, told The TESS.

He said children in Scotland needed to gain an understanding of their cultural and literary heritage. "They don't know their way around the culture - the voices of the land in which they live. Most other European countries would find this really bizarre; it would be taken as a cultural entitlement that children should have at least some knowledge of the literature of Germany, France, Poland or Russia."

Mr Hodgart insisted the only means of ensuring a minimum of Scots literature was covered was by making it a compulsory part of the exam: "We are not asking for anything very drastic. What we are asking for is one answer in the Higher English literature paper, to ensure all Scottish children have some exposure to the literature of the land in which they live. That leaves plenty of scope, a huge variety, across the whole range of the tradition."

The letter also said exam guidelines should allow pupils to use Scots in any oral or written assessment, should they wish to do so. It argues the absence of Scots language and Scottish literature from many classrooms "sends the message that our own language and literature are simply not important". The continuing low level of Scots language provision, it continued, perpetuated discrimination against those tens of thousands of pupils in schools for whom Scots is the first language.

Derrick McClure, retired senior lecturer in the school of language and literature at Aberdeen University and another of the signatories, said: "The reason the issue is important is that Scots is one of the national languages of Scotland. When compared to the provision made for indigenous minority languages in other countries, the history of neglect and active oppression of Scots, and the negative attitudes towards it which are still to be found, almost beggar belief."

Education Secretary Michael Russell said the Government was committed to ensuring learners were given the opportunity to speak and learn one of their national languages, and had built Scots into a number of curricular resources used by Learning and Teaching Scotland. He added that the Government had also been liaising with the Scottish Qualifications Authority, which has recommended a high profile for the language as part of the new qualifications being introduced in 2013-14.

"Scots is alive and well in Scottish education. However, I have listened to the concerns about its status and have recently tasked LTS to consider a new vision which will provide consistency and focus to the Scottish elements of the curriculum. I am confident the new approach will ensure Scots is put on an equal footing with the other Scottish parts of the curriculum," Mr Russell added.

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