Scottish texts in question

22nd June 2012 at 01:00

As a former Educational Institute of Scotland member and a school rep, I find it extremely disappointing that the EIS should see the introduction of a mandatory exam question on a Scottish text in Higher English, as a result of "nationalistic fervour" ("Scottish texts rejected", TESS 15 June).

Why should an exam requirement be considered political interference or diktat only in Scotland, but not in other countries, including those of our neighbours in the British Isles? The irony is that, in the past, political interference either prevented a mandatory element being introduced or removed the modest form introduced under Higher Still.

Unfortunately most English teachers were not taught Scottish literature at school or university and, by and large, they teach what they know; that is, English or American literature, which is why their choices dominate the syllabus and the exam answers.

With some notable exceptions, there is little evidence from the exams of Scottish students appreciating their rich literary heritage in our schools, never mind their linguistic heritage, especially in Scots or Gaelic (at least in translation), a truly appalling indictment of Scottish education.

Many reports and submissions over the past three decades have sought to remedy this cultural neglect, the most recent of which include a petition to Parliament (2006), the ministerial working group reports on Scottish literature and language (2010), the Excellence in English report (2011), an open letter to the government in January 2011 signed by more than 100 academics, teachers and writers, and the recent Scottish studies working group recommendations that led to the minister deciding a mandatory question was long overdue to bring English into line with Higher history and drama.

All of the above recommended a mandatory Scottish component and all of them invited or consulted a wide range of views. It is, therefore, not true to say this decision was made without wide consultation or support.

Instead of undermining Curriculum for Excellence, a mandatory requirement will help to ensure a key element is being delivered as teachers now have a duty to "develop an appreciation of Scotland's vibrant literary and linguistic heritage and its indigenous languages and dialects", a principle that "suffuses the outcomes and experiences".

A minimum exam requirement will also help to ensure that another central tenet of the curriculum, Assessment is for Learning, is delivered; that is, progressive assessment of what our children have learned about the culture of the country in which they live.

Any other country with any degree of self-belief and self-respect for its own literary tradition would regard its absence in their exams as incomprehensible. No other country would permit such a neglect of its own literature in its educational system.

John Hodgart (former PT English), Kilwinning.

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