Keep Scottish texts voluntary for students, union says


Plans to make Higher English pupils answer a compulsory question on Scottish literature are counter-productive and will lead to more teaching to the test, according to unions.

The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) believes that, far from encouraging more study of classic Scottish novels, plays and poems as intended, the move would undermine flexibility and make it harder to follow pupils’ interests.

Earlier this year education minister Michael Russell announced that Higher English candidates would have to answer at least one such question from 2014/15. The government’s Scottish Studies Working Group had recommended that new National exams should include a specific element on Scottish texts in order to help nurture an understanding of their culture and literature.

However, a paper approved by the EIS opposes the introduction of this mandatory question.

The paper states: “The introduction of the compulsory exam question on Scottish texts will severely weaken and unbalance the new English courses, severely compromise central tenets of the new curriculum and, ironically, lead to a diminishing of Scottish literature and culture in the eyes of young learners. 

“Breadth, depth, challenge, enjoyment, choice, coherence and relevance – these are principles worth placing at the heart of the assessment regime of a new curriculum that seeks to be radical and are the true progressive means of engendering a life-long love for the literature and culture of our nation. Lists of analysis questions out of 20 marks on the same set texts year after year simply are not.”

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS, said: “This will detract from deep learning and critical-thinking, and encourage the type of teaching to the test that was such a disliked feature.”

The Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association has also criticised the plan as pointless, saying that most English teachers already teach Scottish texts.

Last week officials from the Scottish Qualifications Authority were reportedly concerned that pupils were giving prepared answers in their Higher English exams.

“It was disappointing to see, once again, that in some centres whole classes had been set identical tasks. This is very unlikely to generate work of quality,” said a report quoted by The Herald.

“While class exercises are a worthwhile tactic in the teaching and learning process for writing, candidates should be allowed the freedom to choose the nature of their final submissions.”

A Scottish government spokeswoman said a specific Scottish element, “alongside a wide range of other materials”, would be the best way to promote Scottish literature in the classroom and ensure consistency across all Scottish schools.


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