The question of Scottish texts

6th July 2012 at 01:00

John Hodgart ("Scottish texts in question", 22 June) does not address the central concern about a compulsory question on a Scottish text in the new Higher English exam, which is that pupils' learning of and exposure to Scottish literature will be limited by the context questions that the SQA must now set. He must remember what those kinds of questions on set texts were like from the Revised Higher in the 1990s.

There were only nine authors on the list, with the same texts by them repeated year after year. Extracts from the novels or plays, or complete poems, were published, followed by questions such as "By referring closely to the language of the opening stanza, show how sympathy for the mouse is created" (4 marks). In the same 1994 paper, only 8 marks were awarded for discussing one of Burns' central themes in his poetry.

I want the same things for Scottish pupils that Mr Hodgart wants: a broad and deep "appreciation of Scotland's vibrant literary and linguistic heritage". A mandatory Scottish component in the new courses is also something I am happy to embrace.

But when the assessments become the principal means of ensuring that teachers do what you want, then you forsake the central tenets of the new Curriculum for Excellence and end up with a lowest-common-denominator approach to teaching and learning.

Enjoyment, challenge, relevance, personalisation and choice - these are principles worth placing at the heart of your assessment and are the true, progressive means of engendering a lifelong love for the literature and culture of your nation. Lists of analysis questions out of 25 marks on the same set texts year after year just aren't.

Allan Crosbie, English teacher, Edinburgh.

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