Scottishness in the curriculum

25th January 2008 at 00:00
Fiona Hyslop, the Education Secretary, wants to see Scottishness embedded across the curriculum. Today, as we celebrate the birth of Robert Burns, we ask teachers to recommend a key Scottish reference point in their subject.


Neil Dawson, principal teacher of English, The Mary Erskine School, Edinburgh

Scottish literature has always featured in our courses. But if I was to identify an essential Scottish element, I would go somewhat off the beaten track. Kenneth Steven is a poet, artist and novelist based in Dunkeld. He offers excellent school sessions and has a gentle, sensitive approach to presenting his own work and promoting creative writing. His work is distinctively Scottish, capturing the sights, sounds and moods of our native land, and often giving a strikingly visual impression of people, places and scenes. "Highland Bull", for example, from the anthology Wild Horses, gives a complex view of Scotland's character: we recognise the power of "force ten August, iron rain", tempered by the care and "a little Gaelic" which can have a quietening effect on a beast "quite capable of firing". Likewise, his recent collection, Salt and Light, with such titles as "Iona Ferry" and "Pictures of Assynt", is redolent with the beauty and majesty of Scotland.

Accessible to S3 pupils and above, Steven's work is an excellent vehicle for promoting a contemplative approach to contemporary Scottish writing.


Chris Pritchard, member of the Scottish Mathematical Council

The most notable contribution made by a Scot to the development of mathematics was the invention of logarithms by John Napier, whom we remember in the name of Napier University. In the 17th century and subsequently, logarithms made a huge impact on navigation, astronomy and surveying by reducing the required calculations to a much more manageable scale. Less well-known is the work of Colin MacLaurin (who, incidentally, designed the defences of Edinburgh against the Jacobites in 1745) in identifying key features of stationary points of functions. Both remain central elements of the Higher mathematics course.

On a smaller scale, we have the introduction of the concept of the radian by James Thomson and Thomas Muir and the introduction of the word statistics into the English language by John Sinclair of Thurso. And let us not forget the invention of the pie chart and other statistical diagrams by William Playfair, the architect who transformed Edinburgh into the "Athens of the North" by designing the Royal Scottish Academy and other neo-classical buildings in the capital.


Lynn Smith, principal teacher of home economics, Blairgowrie High

We don't do a huge amount looking specifically at the food of our own country, but it comes through, for example, discussing the Scottish diet and its links to Scottish culture. We make things that link with different times of the year, such as haggis (pictured) and Burns Night, shortbread and Christmas.

It would be nice for the kids to see more of their own culture, but there is so much in the curriculum to cover. The school does a cross-curricular project on space for S2 every year, involving every department. Our department creates a "space bar" for taking on a flight, but it would be nice to look at a Scottish theme for the project instead of space.

We look holistically at where foods come from and what is local. One of the Higher courses is developing a dish for a restaurantcafe to include Scottish produce - so they are kept aware of it, but not taught it directly.

We are developing a Skills for Work vocational course which looks at "gate to plate". It takes S3 pupils through from farming to the Simon Howie meat processing plant.

As a school of ambition, Blairgowrie High is in the process of installing a training kitchen and restaurant.


Duncan Toms, principal teacher of history, Bearsden Academy, East Dunbartonshire

There is a substantial amount of Scottish history taught and it will soon become a compulsory element at Higher, but coverage remains patchy with little time to teach it systematically within an overall balance of local, Scottish, British, European and world history.

For a young person growing up in today's global society, too much Scottish history could be as disadvantageous as too little. We have to be selective while retaining coherence and chronology. We also have to avoid a totally uniform approach by providing Scottish options which tap into the interests of pupils and expertise and enthusiasm of teachers, allowing for local variations. One area for study could be the development of Scotland's political identity from unification, through the Wars of Independence, Reformation, the Union of the Crowns, Civil War and Commonwealth, 1707 Act of Union and British Empire to the European Community, devolution, the re-established Scottish Parliament and the continuing debate over independence. It would contribute to a more balanced view than the tendency to concentrate on the Wars of Independence.

How we teach it is as important as what we teach. As well as developing interesting, imaginative and active approaches, we must stop the perpetuation of one-dimensional, self-serving versions of history.


Cara Matthew, principal teacher of science, Webster's High, Angus

For me, the essential Scottish element would have to be the work of the Roslin Institute and Dolly the sheep. Dolly (pictured) was the first mammal cloned from an adult somatic cell using nuclear transfer from an udder donor cell of a sheep. At the time, it was a remarkable breakthrough, considering the specialised nature of somatic cells which carry out particular functions. Previously it had not been found possible to clone these cells successfully to produce whole organisms. When the Roslin Institute announced Dolly's existence in 1997, it placed her as an international celebrity and ignited a national debate on the ethics of cloning; a debate which continued after an arthritic Dolly died prematurely.

With Scotland's schools aiming to make our young people aware of the values on which our society is based, so that they can become responsible citizens, it is important that pupils recognise the impact that cloning techniques could potentially make, not only to their own lives and their communities, but also to the environment. The familiarity of pupils with the term "Dolly the sheep" provides an obvious entry point for all year groups into the concepts of cloning. The work of the Roslin Institute is of value in highlighting the potential uses of cloning - from farming to therapeutic cloning to treat human conditions such as Alzheimer's - and provides a starting point for debating the ethical and environmental issues which arise with this technology.


Rhona Goss, principal teacher of sciences, Monifieth High, Angus

It is important that our young people know about the scientific heritage of Scotland and the impact that Scottish scientists have made in the world. However, there are pupils (and maybe some adults) who assume that the laws of physics are established, and all that has to be done now is learn them.

Our young people need to be aware that world-class research in physics is happening, with scientists and engineers developing applications commercially. It is difficult for teachers to keep up-to-date with areas of current research, but an excellent model for achieving this was initiated recently with the establishment of the Optoelectronics College, funded by the Rank Prize Funds. At a three-day conference, young researchers from Scottish universities and teachers collaborated to produce resources and develop continuing professional development opportunities, which will help link research with classroom practice.

Over the next year or two, teachers will be able to take part in CPD sessions, providing them with equipment developed in Scotland, and linking them with optoelectronics researchers. Through interaction, either in person or electronically, pupils will not only develop their understanding of optoelectronics, but be more aware of opportunities within a vibrant science community, for their own future in research or industry in Scotland.


Fhiona Fisher, principal teacher of modern languages, Douglas Academy, East Dunbartonshire

Modern languages is about celebrating cultures, where we are from and how we communicate. I think it's important we examine our own culture as part of that.

Something we do with our pupils is look at the correlation between French and Scots. James IV of Scotland and his court had a very close alliance with the French court. At the time, they were closer to the French than the English and James - a Renaissance prince - sent his poets to France to learn the language. As a result, a lot of French words ended up being absorbed into the Scots language. Tassie, which means cup in Scots, for instance, comes from the French tasse. And ashet, which in Scots means pie dish, comes from the French assiette meaning plate. Another word that has its roots in French is the Scots word cahoochy, which comes from the French caoutchouc or rubber.

On the east coast - where I'm originally from - when you go into a fish and chip shop, instead of asking for a steak pie supper, you still ask for an ashet pie supper. It is important these old words don't die - they're such an important part of our culture. Some pupils still use Scots at home. If they come into class and see the correlation between the words they use and French, that can help their learning.


Peter Tomb, principal teacher of chemistry, Madras College, Fife

Scotland has a great scientific heritage and pupils should have an understanding of how discoveries and inventions by Scottish scientists influence the world in which we live. Names like Kelvin, Dewar, Bell, Fleming, and Macleod should be as familiar to pupils as those of historical figures and sports stars. Such figures were innovators of their time, changing not only their country for the better but in some cases having a worldwide effect. Where would we be without penicillin, telephones and insulin? Young people need to be aware that Scottish scientific innovation is a very significant part of who we are as a nation.

However, Scottish science is not merely a thing of the past, it is sustaining the way we live today and is striving to reach new goals and discoveries. We can go back and look at past centuries but that does not teach youngsters anything unless it is put in the present context; unless they are shown how important these discoveries have been to society.

Today, the chemical industry is a major part of the Scottish economy. It is our second biggest export earner (pound;1.3 billion) and is competitive in world markets. It employs 13,500 people and supports 70,000 more. In today's world, the innovators are not individuals but universities and industry which collaborate to create cutting-edge companies such as NiTech Solutions.

The challenge for schools, with the support of industry and government, is to provide learning experiences which give all young people an understanding of the importance of science-based industries, allowing them to become the successful Scottish innovators of the future.

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