Scottish Studies

This week the Scottish Government announced the findings of the Scottish Studies Ministerial Working Group of which I had the privilage of contributing to.  The full list of recommendations can be found here:

I was asked to comment on this by TESS journalist Henry Hepburn [ ].  Attached is the full interview:

1. Which of the working group’s recommendations stand out for you?

Two recommendations are of significance.  The Studying Scotland/Learning about Scotland one stop online resource stands will be hugely important.  At present educators are going through a relentless programme of system wide change and incremental changes to examination structures.  Coupled with this there is a pressure from various directions to focus on many different cross cutting themes, approaches and emphasis.  The only way to embed any of these is to give teachers time to plan, develop further resources and adequately evaluate.  Alongside this there needs to be a set of resources which offer direction and a starting point for further local developments.  I am hopeful that the venture by Education Scotland will not only bring together some of the best existing Scottish resources but will also add evidence of excellent interdisciplinary practice and guidance on how to embed Scottish themes through learning across the curriculum.

The second recommendation of interest is the continued support of travel grants through Historic Scotland. Any effort to roll this out and allow students to experience learning outside of the classroom is to be welcomed.  Our country is filled with major heritage sites, miles of stunning landscapes and coastline and thousand of nooks and crannies that intrigue students, develop learning and open students minds, horizons and ultimately their ambitions.  I spoke only last week to a primary headteacher who wanted to visit a park in the same region as his school.  The cost of hiring a coach prevented students from experiencing the array of outdoor learning opportunities that the park staff were working hard to offer.  Options are now being explores as to how travel subsidy support can be extended to include other national and local organisations.  This is a huge step forward for outdoor learning opportunities. 

I remember another school altering a sponsored walk in local hills and countryside park instead opting for walking students around a well kent local football pitch which many of the students walk past daily on the way to school.  The decision came from logistical difficulties and a risk averse approach. An extension of travel grant and further guidance hopefully will open up the Scotland of Neil Oliver’s adverts. Many of our students do not even know that such breathtaking views, exciting opportunities and peaceful retreats are on their doorstep. 

2. You told us last year that the issues would be around who it’s for, who’s going to resource it and who’s going to teach it. Do we now know the answers to these questions? 

At that time I was concerned about where the “qualification” would sit in the new qualifications framework. We are now clear Scottish Studies is not to be a discreet qualification.  There was serious concern amongst my own members that this might be “Social Studies through the back door” and further dilute the sanctity of discrete subject areas which offer the foundation for interdisciplinary learning.  I am now happy that this is not going to be the case.  Members of my own association and other professional associations representing discreet subjects are happy with this however still pro actively see they have a role in learning about Scotland .

The non educationalist on the group worked well to listen to the views of educators who advised that a discreet ‘Scottish Studies’ qualification might see learning about Scotland marginalised or even ghettoised   Instead work will be completed by SQA to look at possible cluster awards which recognise work completed in a range of subject disciplines.  Such an award would recognise the interconnections of languages, landscape, history and culture and  would have benefits for learning, life and work including roles in heritage, hospitality, tourism and creative industries.  I will be watching work in this area with a keen interest and am particularly keen to see how it can enhance the updatake of Baccalaureates in Social Subjects.

3. Will it be compulsory, and if so to what level? 

One of the real benefits of the working group was pulling together primary educators, secondary educators, FE and HE representatives and media/society icons interested in Scotland .  It has become quite clear that all areas are already doing something to promote learning about Scotland and if anything we need to learn lessons from each other.  Learning about Scotland is important for all levels.  The issue of what is left to professional judgment and expertise and what is compulsory is an interesting debate in any change in education.

4. So, is Scottish studies a new subject, or a change of emphasis in existing subjects? 

As I have just said, many people are doing something related to Scottish Studies.  Sometimes we need to look beyond our own subject area or sector to see what others are doing to give new ideas and new momentum.  The major change of emphasis will be on “joining up the dots”. There are a lot of cross curricular projects on this theme but sometimes this is a bit ad hoc.  They link up thematically but do not really drill down into what skills and knowledge are to be developed and how skills are developed progressively.  Cracking the “IDL” nut will be a major step forward.  If we can do it in this Learning about Scotland workstream then we can apply the learning to many others areas.   Hopefully the website and case studies therein will help to offer guidance on how we join the dots to achieve the best outcomes in learning for our young people. 

5. What will be the impact on your subject? 

History was commended in the working group for its mature approach to achieving a balance between Scottish, British, European & World History.  There are ongoing discussions with SQA about how we achieve a similar balance in terms of economic, social, military and political history.  We are only too aware of the importance of giving students a balanced menu in which there is choice, application and depth of learning but also restrictions which ensure appropriate breadth of learning.  Scottish History is significant in that equilibrium.  History educators know very well that education is a tremendously powerful social, economic and political tool.  SATH’s insistence on achieving a balance is to be replicated by others subject areas.  Prescription is something that teachers tend to rally against however where it is there to protect a particular balance or provide leadership and direction then it is welcomed.  In English a requirement to study Scottish texts gives a protection to students being able to learn about texts from or about their own country.  I know this will help history teachers and provide some super opportunities for real Inter Disciplinary Learning.  This also prevents an over Americanification of students experience of literature.  I hope now that this protection will be extended to offer more incentive to present a balance of Scottish, British, European, American, Far East and other world texts.  History teachers, and other teachers will continue to build global citizens for the future safe in the knowledge that they have a good grounding on learning about the country which they study in.  Just like the foundation of discrete subjects within interdisciplinary learning, there also needs to be an understanding of ones own locality before one can engage in global citizenship.

Pic: Tom Finnie (24.10.2011) Neil McLennan, President of the Scottish Association of Teachers of History, outside Marischal College in Aberdeen and in front of the statue to Robert the Bruce. Tom Finnie Photographic


About neilsgleeeclub

Educator, writer, speaker and leader. Views are my own and not those of the organisations I work for or represent.
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