Only 159 passes in `top priority' Scottish studies

14th November 2014 at 00:00
`Disappointing' take-up mars new subject's inaugural year

just 159 pupils passed the controversial Scottish studies qualification in its first year, it has emerged, amid fears that the new subject has already become marginalised.

Scottish studies was first proposed several years ago, with the SNP government arguing that it would improve young people's appreciation of Scotland's distinct culture, history and languages. Opponents criticised the idea as "brainwashing".

It was launched in 2013-14, but not as a stand-alone subject; instead, it brings together elements from other courses.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) indicated in May 2013 that 45 "centres" (usually schools) had made a firm commitment to offer the subject. But only 159 candidates, from six schools, earned a Scottish studies award at one of three available levels last year, figures show.

"New qualifications tend to have low uptake initially and we expect these figures to increase over time as more centres start to deliver it," an SQA spokeswoman said. A Scottish government spokesman also predicted that uptake would increase.

Some pupils would take Scottish studies over two years and 22 schools had committed to offer it in 2014-15, the SQA representative added. The qualification is available at two more levels this year, with the most advanced serving as an equivalent to a Higher.

Education secretary Michael Russell previously told TESS that Scottish studies was a top priority for 2012. Fellow education minister Alasdair Allan said in 2011 that establishing the subject was one of his big ambitions.

Last month, however, SNP MSP Joan McAlpine told Mr Russell in Parliament that she had "not been aware of [Scottish studies] as part of the general discussion around Curriculum for Excellence recently". She said that she was also surprised it was optional, having thought that government policy suggested otherwise.

Mr Russell replied that Scottish studies was "a great thing" but added: "I do not want to say that we are promoting it over and above other subjects."

John Hodgart, a former English teacher and a member of the working group for the development of Scottish studies, said the initial take-up was "certainly very disappointing". He argued that the subject should be mandatory at all stages of education, although its content should not be prescribed.

"This isn't about teacher choice or freedom but entitlement -that is, the children's right to learn about the culture of their own land," said Mr Hodgart, who is now secretary of the Association for Scottish Literary Studies' education committee.

Neil McLennan, another member of the working group, said: "There was always going to be a challenge for Scottish studies, given the reduced number of subjects that many schools opt for in the new National qualifications."

Mr McLennan, a former president of the Scottish Association of Teachers of History, said he saw the merits of studying a Scottish perspective by connecting different subjects, but said this might also be done through Great Britain or Europe.

James Robertson, a Scottish novelist and champion of the Scots language, expected take-up for Scottish studies to "greatly increase" in 2014-15, as teachers gained confidence in CfE and more resources became available.

Pupils' interest in the Scottish independence referendum could also boost its popularity, he said.

"The opposition in some quarters of the education sector to any specific Scottish studies has been quite strong, so it is essential that such courses and units win converts and are taken up by teachers and students on their merits, not because they are being pushed for ideological reasons," Mr Robertson added.

Former Labour education spokesman Ken Macintosh previously described Scottish studies as nationalist "brainwashing", although a Scottish government survey suggested that the public supported the idea.

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