5th September 1997 at 01:00
Well, here we are, two ballot crosses away from the return of a Scottish + parliament, and how is modern studies, the school subject which encourages + students to take an active role in contemporary society and develop political + literacy, reacting to this colossal constitutional change? The Modern Studies + Specialist Group, which decides on the content of the subject, has just + announced that 17-year-olds, studying Advanced Higher, will not have the option+ of studying Scottish politics. The three topics on offer will be "Law and + Order", the "European Union" and "Comparative Politics".The proposals in the + newly published arrangements document for the new Higher and Advanced Higher do+ not encourage my colleagues in the largest modern studies department in east + Scotland to believe the situation is to be rectified. Indeed, there appears to+ be a blatant attempt to further downgrade the Scottish dimension at both + levels. Yet in the preamble to any modern studies syllabus, certain key phrases+ recur. There should be handling of evidence about contemporary political + issues. Study of the subject develops an understand ing of the fundamental + processes which underpin political life. These processes are considered in + local, national and international contexts which are both relevant and + significant. The course should encourage objectivity and tolerance.All through + the 1980s, Higher grade candidates could study a topic that took in the four + main options for governing Scotland (status quo, devolution, federal government+ and independence). It traced the emergence of the SNP, the Kilbrandon report, + the 1979 referendum, the Constitutional Convention, the significance of + by-elections such as Govan, examined the role of the Secretary of State for + Scotland and the Scottish Office, the conflict with the Convention of Scottish + Local Authorities, discussed Scotland's national identity, explained the + Doomsday Scenario and Claim of Right and looked at the significance of the 1992+ March for Democracy. There were few modern studies teachers who wanted our + 17-year-olds to leave the subject knowing nothing of these, especially when + Standard grade did not encompass these issues either.Then, in the 1990s, came + the revised Higher grade. The topic was to be abandoned and in the + consultation that followed a third of all submissions dealt with the Scottish + dimension. The Modern Studies Association reported that members wholeheartedly + rejected the view that the Scottish dimension was implicit in the new syllabus.+ The SNP demanded that it remain at least an option. Individual teachers and + the modern studies panels of the teacher unions also joined the fight.The + working party justified the transfer of the topic to the Certificate of Sixth + Year Studies, where it has been studied ever since by a tiny fraction of the + most able students, on the grounds that it had become "somewhat arid" and + "there was a low uptake anyway". These were interesting arguments considering + that the immensely arid "Local Government" unit is still taught. In the new + arrangements document, as part of Higher Still, the problem has not been + addressed. The Scottish Qualifications Authority can claim that "Scotland + appears in the syllabus".At Advanced Higher it cannot. All of which begs the + question, why have such an expensive, long drawn out consultation process? We + were told that Higher Still would lead to minimal change and disruption or + expense. Tell that to the modern studies departments which taught "Scottish + Politics" and the "Middle East" to fulfil the modern studies pledge of handling+ current national and international issues of relevance to young adults but now+ find both abandoned by sleight of hand. That means an even greater increase in+ workload and in turn more stress, and expense for hard-press ed departments. I+ have asked at conferences how all this can be justified. I was told it would + cost too much to continue including these topics in the examination paper. This+ is totally unsatisfactory.I was also told that such topics might return in + years to come if there were a demand or their relevance was overwhelming. How + will such a demand be gauged?There is clearly a concerted attempt to further + downgrade the Scottish dimension. What other democratic nation would allow + discussion of its constitutional future to be almost prohibited in this way? + Are the reasons educational or political?John Lloyd is principal teacher of + modern studies at Inveralmond Community High School, Livingston.