The Age o Excellence
Efter mony curricular revisions in the saicond hauf o the twentieth century, the brave new world o Curriculum for Excellence was revealed unto us in the third millennium, wi a haill new vision o teachin an learnin an new articles o faith. But nae wunner ma colleague George McG (a Computin wizard) decided to retire because he said he didnae hae a file in his napper labelled CfE an he didnae want his brain rewired at his age. George didnae need CfE to make his teaching excellent – it had ay been.
But whaur did Scottish culture an languages fit intae the new vision o things? The only positive statement (in fact the only statement) aboot Scottish culture in the Literacy an Language documents appears in a document cawed Principles and Practice whaur it actually spells oot that the study of our ‘rich literary and linguistic heritage’ should ‘suffuse the curriculum.’ Michty me, this souns gey like actually tellin teachers that Scottish culture shuid be at the very hert o things. Braw words an nae doot the word ‘suffuse’ souns gey wechty an ambeetious, but it seems that such braw words had clearly buin forgotten aw aboot by the time we get tae the fuitnote: ‘texts may include texts in Scots and Gaelic.’ A deliberate pit doon or jist a lack o jyned up thinkin? As the gaffer said tae the navvies, tak yer pick.
I hae ma doots aboot whether muckle ‘suffusing’ is gaun on if we only expect that it ‘may include texts in Scots and Gaelic’ an maist depressin o aw is that it is apparently ayont the power o Education Scotland and even the Scottish Government tae chynge ‘may’ to ‘should.’ Believe me, I’ve tried – an failt. Apparently no even wan single three letter word can be chynged in the holy writ o CfE, though it makes ye want tae yaise a few fower lettered anes!
However, since comin tae office in 2007, the SNP Government has definitely taen some important steps tae address, or at least talk aboot, oor cultural deficit, by commissionin reports on Scottish Literature, the Scots Language an Scottish Studies.
The first o these, The Goring Report (no boring) on Scottish Literature, published in February 2010, stressed that, ‘a thriving literary culture is an important element in the well-being of the nation,’ something that should have a central role in education, giving young people ‘an insight to their cultural heritage, allowing them to hear voices from their own background – or different – who convey Scotland’s distinctive history, outlook and values.’
The report made plenty o wicelik suggestions in different airts, such as the establishment o a Scottish Academy o Literature, setting up a national network o literary development officers, an a compulsory Scottish question at Higher. Yet as faur as I can tell, only the latter has been implementit sae far, an maist o the ither recommendations seem tae hae buin forgotten aboot, or pit back on the shelf tae gether stoor, especially if they wid cost money.
In the key area o writin and publishin in Scots, gettin financial support has aye buin lik squeezin bawbees oot o whinstane an it is still gey muckle hard, e.g. Itchy Coo is a national treisur but when their fundin endit a few year syne, it was never replaced, while the likes o Dr Jimmy Begg was driven jist aboot dementit tryin tae get a pickle o siller oot o Creative Scotland tae help publish The Man’s the Gowd an he wis left wi an empty beggin bowl lik plenty ither Scots scrievers.
Followin on fae this, The Ministerial Working Group on Scots Language, (chaired by Derrick McClure, November 2010) argued that ‘development in the area of education requires the most urgent action because the lack of resources and priority for Scots endangers all recent progress.’ It asked for the development o a Scots language policy tae be enshrined in an Act o Parliament, the appyntment o Scots language co-ordinators, an a permanent dedicated Scots language bureau tae meet the growin demand for training an resource development.
It even recommendit that regional dialect diversity should be integral tae education policy an stipulated that Scots language should form pairt o aw initial teacher education courses. Nae sign of that happening onie time suin, but at least fower Language Co-ordinators were appyntit on twa year contracts, but efter twa year. There’s noo only ane tae serve the haill country an it’s no clear when or if ithers will be appyntit. Again a helluva lot remains tae be done an it has tae be said that progress has buin lik that o a wabbit snail.
In mony weys complementary tae this was the Excellence in English Report (April 2011) that recommendit, among many ither things, that aw English teachers in Scotland shuid be encouraged tae study at least ane course in Scottish Literature as pairt o their first degree an that Scots should feature in teacher trainin at aw stages an again a mandatory Scottish lit question in the exams. Furthermair it recommendit that Local Authorities should encourage schools tae develop a Scots language policy, appynt Scots Language Co-ordinators an provide support through relevant CPD an access tae modern Scots resources.
It went on tae ootline how Scots could enrich linguistic development at every stage o the curriculum and how it can hae ‘a positive impact on children’s confidence in language skills as well as fostering citizenship.’ (equally true o Gaelic) A gey important an wicelik statement indeed! But once again faur owre many excellent recommendations have either yet to be implementit or hae buin ignored aw thegither.
Ane document that surprisingly did lead to significant chynges was The Open Letter o Januar 2011, supported by mair than a 100 scrievers an academics, that cawed for a couple o basic first steps: the setting up o a Scottish Literature and Language Bureau as weel as a mandatory Scottish lit question in the exams.
‘Successive Scottish Ministers and education policy makers have said that Scotland’s language and literature are important to learning and teaching in this country. … But each administration has failed to invest adequately in training and resources to support this and to ensure that this engagement actually takes place at every level. The result is that Scotland has a teaching profession often ill-equipped to teach Scotland’s young people about their own country’s language and literature’.
The letter’s demands were actually fairly modest – naithin really controversial – yet jings crivvens – The Herald splashed it as the lead story on the front page on 25th January an the response in the letters pages was gey supportive. But whit in the name o the wee man wid onybody fae ony ither European country think o us that these gey modest demands were actually somehow controversial front page news? They must’ve thocht we were no quite the full euro in mair weys than wan!