Scottish studies may not be new, single subject

7th October 2011 at 01:00
It could be covered in other lessons, raising concerns that it is being crowbarred into curriculum

The much-vaunted introduction of Scottish studies may not result in an entirely new subject, it has emerged.

The new strand of learning could instead be covered through existing subjects, said Learning and Skills Minister Alasdair Allan in a parliamentary debate.

Some of the initial hostility to the idea - described as Nationalist "brainwashing" by Labour education spokesman and prospective leader Ken Macintosh earlier this year - has abated.

But concerns remain that Scottish studies is being crowbarred into an already crowded curriculum.

Claire Baker, Labour MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife, was concerned that history and modern languages were already hard-pressed, and questioned whether schools could cope with a new, distinct subject.

"One of the options is for people who are studying Scottish subjects across a range of disciplines to be recognised for it, rather than for there to be another Higher that competes with others," Dr Allan said.

Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith argued that Curriculum for Excellence had made Scottish themes more prominent: "We have hordes of bits of paper that tell us that Scottish studies are already a fundamental part of the Scottish curriculum."

But Paul Wheelhouse, South Scotland SNP MSP, felt current teaching suffered from superficiality: "People need to go beyond the Wars of Independence and Robert Burns to understand the nature of events, why they have happened and what influence they have today. I do not think that that degree of explanation is provided in the current curriculum."

Former Conservative leader David McLetchie, countered: "Why not give Curriculum for Excellence a shot? Why do we not trust in our schools and our teachers in all subjects to ensure that the Scottish dimension has a special and important place in their teaching?"

He criticised the Government's Scottish studies working group for having only three meetings scheduled, describing it as "not so much a working group as a committee that has been formed to nod through a series of pre- ordained conclusions and provide cover for the Government".

Jenny Marra, North-East Scotland Labour MSP, questioned the group's impartiality - a charge strenuously denied by Dr Allan - having identified "many SNP supporters" among its members, who include Scots Makar Liz Lochhead.

But colleague Claire Baker said Labour's stance on Scottish studies was summed up by the comments of a Twitter user when she asked for feedback on the idea: "Personally I don't see any problems with Scottish studies so long as the SNP doesn't interfere with the course and what's in it."

Giving people "access to and knowledge of their country's culture" would be "fairly uncontentious anywhere else on earth", said Dr Allan; he highlighted the 90 per cent support for Scottish studies in a recent Government survey of 1,009 people.

Dr Allan also quoted Wilson McLeod, an Edinburgh University senior lecturer in Celtic and Scottish studies, who said: "Far from giving a biased and nationalistic view of Scotland's past, (Scottish studies) could also pierce romantic history about the likes of Culloden and the Clearances."

MSPs voted through Dr Allan's motion for "a distinct strand of learning around Scottish studies for all pupils in the context of the Curriculum for Excellence, providing greater coherence without marginalisation".

henry.hepburn@tes.co.uk

ONE-STOP SHOP

Education Scotland this week launched a new national online resource, Studying Scotland, which will support the development of Scottish studies.

It has been designed as a "one-stop shop", aimed at helping teachers and pupils who are interested in the study of Scotland to develop their knowledge and understanding of its diverse languages, culture and heritage.

It will also encourage them to "acquire the skills, attitudes and dispositions to become active participants in Scottish society", said an Education Scotland spokesman.

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