Time is running out for history

23rd April 2004 at 01:00
Scottish history teachers - and some of their pupils - leapt to the defence of their subject this week amid fears that it was becoming a victim of the new curricular flexibility for secondary schools.

St Margaret Mary's Secondary in Glasgow is the latest to phase out the subject. From next session it will not be taught in S1 and is "unlikely" to feature in S2. Only upper school pupils completing exam courses will study history.

Pat Scanlan, the school's headteacher, told The TES Scotland that the decision to restrict social subjects to geography and modern studies was in line with national trends and with the school's curricular strategy.

But Mr Scanlon acknowledged that reduced staffing due to a fall in the school roll had provided "a greater impetus". The school's roll is due to fall by 40 next session, to about 540.

A falling roll and pressure on staffing were also factors when Mainholm Academy in Ayr dropped the subject three years ago. Ian Gourlay, acting head, said the decision was taken on the basis of "curricular pragmatism, national and school trends and the practicalities of staffing in a small school".

Senior pupils in the school forum have lobbied for a rethink, a move welcomed by Peter Hillis, president of the Scottish Association of Teachers of History.

Mr Hillis said the association was concerned that the Glasgow and Ayrshire developments may signal a wider trend and it is demanding assurances that history remains a core subject. "Present day Scotland has been shaped by the past and present-day citizenship rests on history, for example on understanding how Britain evolved as a democracy," Mr Hillis said.

He added:"It is even more regrettable if the subject is disappearing for financial reasons rather than on the basis of the wider interests of young people. The response of the Mainholm pupils is very encouraging and endorses our view that they appreciate history."

Tom Devine, the well-known historian who is chair of Irish and Scottish studies at Aberdeen University, said that "the old academic priority" of history has been lost, but the subject should be retained because it has "powerful intellectual benefits for the new generation. It promotes analytical skills, clarity of writing and critical evaluation of evidence."

Professor Devine highlighted the paradox of schools dropping the subject at a time when there was greater interest than ever before in Scottish history and the subject is booming in universities.

He said: "The main thing is we are at a period in history when above all we have to grapple with the processes, factors and influences that produced modern Scotland. We cannot get that unless we have a long-term timeframe, and only history provides this."

A spokesperson for the Scottish Qualifications Authority said that the number of candidates sitting Standard grade and Higher history had remained steady over the past six years, and this had been boosted by those studying the subject at Intermediate levels.

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