John Hodgart casts a critical ee on developments in education.

Scottish Studies an Scots Language Awards

In ma last twa bits o scrievins I talked aboot the historical neglect o Scottish culture in oor educational system an the lack o progress in implementin maist o the recommendations o the reports on Scottish Literature an Language (2010) as weel as the Excellence in English Report (2011). When ye’ve been fechtin for decades tae see Scottish culture gien its richtfu place at the hert o oor educationan system, nae wunner ye ken jist how Sisyphus must’ve felt when his muckle stane rolled back doon the brae aince mair.

Yet in spite o aw these disappyntments, twa or three encouragin developments hae taen place owre the last few years. Ironically maist o them hae come no fae reports but fae the modest proposals o the Open Letter o 2011 that led tae the settin up o the Scottish Studies Workin Group by Michael Russell, chaired by Alasdair Alan. This group recommendit a core study o Scottish culture at aw stages, fae early years right up tae Higher Level, so that oor weans wid hae the chance tae learn a lot mair aboot their ain country, includin learnin aboot the Scots language an at least something positive aboot Gaelic, e.g. via the study o place names.

This wis probably the first real attempt in oor educational history tae place oor culture at the hert o learnin but richt fae the stert its proposals faced institutional indifference or even hostility. The response fae some opposition parties wis nuthin short o stammygasterin – especially owre the mandatory Scotlit question – responses that showed why the original 1998 Review of Scottish Culture wis never published.

Anither challenge wis that the SQA decided that the awards shouldnae be national exam courses, jist internal awards, as they argued this wid prove mair attractive tae schools an widnae interfere wi or hae tae compete wi exam subjects. There micht weel be some logic in this, but the fact that weans cannae get a qualification that has the same wecht as exam subjects means its status is actually doon amang the dottles an its place in the curriculum gey shoogly, if it has ony place at aw in saicondary, while its place in primary often jist depends on the fancies o the heid teacher.

So it’s mibbie no aw that surprisin that the uptak has been gey disappyntin in saicondary up tae noo. Yet, as they say in the fitba, it is early doors an the nummers will mibbie increase. But since it is jist optional it aw depends on the interest or enthusiasm o classroom teachers, while runnin a course needs cross-curricular plannin, an will therefore need support fae senior management tae set it up, somethin that could weel be anither muckle dyke tae sprachle owre.

But whit dae pupils actually need tae dae tae gain the award? It’s cross-curricular, so they hae tae pass three Scottish options in at least twa different curricular areas, e.g. Language, Social Subjects, Creative Arts, Science etc, tho they can only dae wan fae each subject, plus a compulsory Scotland in Focus project, i.e. a study o the pupil’s ain choice, wi a performance / creative / productive element involved, e.g. they could dae ane on an environmental topic, a place or wey o life, or on a Scottish artist, musician, singer, scientist etc or on literature written in Scots or Gaelic, so there’s nae end o options.

However, tryin tae be optimistic in spite o the fact that they are jist internal awards, no exam passes, ye could say they are an important furst step in the richt direction that micht eventually lead on to somethin mair substantial. Yet should teachin aboot oor ain culture hae tae depend on aw these vagaries an whims? Efter aw, Scottish Studies only aims tae dae whit maist other countries take for granted.

But leukin on the bricht side again, the development o the Scottish Studies Award has led tae twa ither historic steps in oor educational history. The first tae be implementit wis a mandatory Scotlit requirement in the new exams but it had tae be focht gey hard for in the Scottish Studies committee agin the SQA’s opposition, tho thankfully we had the support o a sympathetic meenister, Alasdair Allan. Yet there wis even opposition fae some in the EIS, plus a few hysterical opponents wha saw this is a dire threat tae teacher freedom an choice, somethin they clamed wid even sabotage CfE – a severe cases o paranoia wi skitters!

In fact there are plenty o choices an teachers only hae tae pick ane text fae a wide list, an a lot o them were picked because were already yaised in schuils, e.g. Liz Lochhead, MacCaig, Morgan an co or The Cone Gathers by Robin Jenkins, plenty o them in fact wi gey little or nae Scots at aw. An whit’s mair, it only applies tae levels 5-6 (i.e. Standard Grade Credit level (auld O grade) & Higher, since there’s nae external exam at lower levels.

The saicont important development fae Scottish Studies wis that eventually Scots Language Awards were developed by the SQA, efter some persuasion an pressure it has tae be said, as they had nae awareness that oor young folk micht actually want tae study Scots. Yet they eventually saw the licht an deserve some credit for baith listenin tae the criticism an eventually bein positive aboot it (mibbie wi some help fae Alasdair Allan wha fun them some extra bawbees tae develop the units) but at the end o the day, it is a truly historic step for the Scots language.

For a pass, candidates only hae tae demonstrate their unnerstaunin etc fae ane text an communicate this in an appropriate format o their ain choice on ane occasion, so it’s no really aw that demandin an a smert wean could easily complete mair than ane level in a year. It could even be duin as pairt o the English course, by jist incorporatin texts in Scots wi Englsh, an askin pupils tae dae at least ane piece o writin / talk/ performance / message in Scots, somethin they can actually dae already for their English course if they want tae, tho I cannae see them gettin a lot o encouragement or help tae dae that fae maist teachers.

Yet again this depends on an haein an interestit English dept / teacher (tho it could be duin in ither subjects) an I wid guess that no owre mony are confident aboot teachin Scottish literature written in Scots, never mind qualified tae teach the Scots language itsel. But haein said that, shairly ony interestit teacher wi a hauf daicent grasp o Scots shuid be able tae deliver it (unless brocht up in a posh bubble somewhaur) an they micht learn a lot fae their weans aboot the language in the process.

However, as wi the Scottish Studies Award, whit is on offer here is jist an optional internally assessed award, no a national exam course, so the doots owre status an value crop up again. Yet it is a furst step in the richt direction an mibbie a national exam course is somethin that will eventually come, tho again we’ll hae tae fecht for it, an fecht for it gey hard. Pit yer shouder tae the muckle stane, Sisyphus!

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