by a Newsnet reporter
The Scottish Parliament debated the government’s Scottish studies plan this week. A more mature and even tempered exchange of views than the ill-judged media sound-bites that were issued to the Scottish media by Labour’s Ken Macintosh.
Mr Macintosh’s ridiculous charge that the expansion of the school syllabus to include areas of Scottish culture was tantamount to trying to “brainwash children” was as forgettable as Mr Macintosh’s name was to Ed Miliband.
Dr Alasdair Allan, The Minister for Learning and Skills opened the debate by commenting that “… it is reasonable for anyone in any country to expect that school will give them access to and knowledge of their country’s culture.”
He went on to explain that the public had warmly welcomed the commitment to Scottish Studies and that recent research found a 90% level of support.
He continued by saying that “Young people have an entitlement to a broad general education as part of Curriculum for Excellence. That must include enabling them to develop a knowledge and understanding of Scotland and its place in the world. Understanding Scottish culture and connecting with Scotland as a place through our landscape and natural heritage are an important part of developing a sense of worth, confidence and wellbeing – all the things that enable people to flourish in learning, life and work.”
Earlier in the month, Dr Allan had also chaired the first meeting of the Scottish Studies working group, members include Liz Lochhead, Professor Douglas Gifford and Phil Cunningham. The group consists of a mix of people with expertise in academia, literature, Scots and Gaelic language, culture and teaching.
Dr Allan stressed that Scottish Studies would look outward to an international perspective to prepare pupils to be global citizens. The working group would also look at whether Scottish Studies should have a specific qualification or whether it should be themes within a range of subjects.
Claire Baker moved the amendment from Labour. She started and finished her speech with a slight memory loss beginning by forgetting Alasdair Allan’s name “Dr Alasdair Alison—sorry, I will start again. Dr Allan — sorry! Dr Alasdair Allan—my apologies” and then at the end of her speech, forgetting to actually move her amendment until prompted.
Her speech talked about the work that was to be carried out by the working group and like many of those who did not support the government motion, offered anecdotal evidence for their questioning of the need for Scottish Studies as a subject.
Liz Smith moving the Conservative amendment felt that there was no need for Scottish Studies as a subject, not even as a discrete subject. Her fellow Tory Alex Johstone even intervened in Paul Wheelhouse’s speech to comment “Surely Mr Wheelhouse must realise that, for the vast majority of people in Scotland, the history of their nation is the history of the United Kingdom.” He did not elaborate to whether teaching history in England should generally be from 1707 onwards.
There were many thoughtful points made throughout the debate. Joan McAlpine gave an intelligent speech including references to James Kelman’s experience of winning the Booker Prize and the use of language in Scotland. Rob Gibson pointed out “In the past, nobody questioned the higher history module on the history of the Labour Party. That was not seen as brainwashing or an extra addition to the curriculum; it was seen as a natural part of the curriculum.”
In closing Labour’s contribution to the debate, Labour’s Jenny Marra refused to distance herself from Ken Macintosh’s remarks. She also remarked on the make-up of the working group as she felt it contained a number of SNP supporters. This led to Alasdair Allan asking if she was suggesting “that people such as the national poet, professors of Scottish history and eminent educationists are somehow part of an unspecified plot to corrupt the minds of Scottish youth?”
Neither the Lib Dems nor the Greens spoke in the debate even though the PO and deputy PO intimated to all members that there was a generous amount of time to speak. Willie Rennie preferred to spend time on Twitter, tweeting about a Lib Dem councillor. The Lib Dems did vote to support the Tory amendment at decision time however.
Mike Russell, The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning closed the debate for the government and was in sparkling form reeling off many famous Scots and their achievements including those post union and stating that this must be taught too.
Both amendments fell and the motion was agreed to
For: 68 Against: 12 Abstentions: 30
Motion agreed to:
That the Parliament welcomes the 90% level of support for Scottish Studies in a recent survey; agrees that it is essential that all young people should have the opportunity to learn and be better informed about their country and its place in the world, including its historical, literary, linguistic and cultural inheritance as well as its landscape and natural heritage, and that such learning provides a more relevant and connected learning experience that raises ambition and attainment for all, and supports the Scottish Government’s desire to develop a distinct strand of learning around Scottish Studies for all pupils in the context of the Curriculum for Excellence, providing greater coherence without marginalisation.
That the Parliament notes the establishment of the Scottish Studies working group and its exploration of Scottish studies as a new subject; acknowledges the excellent practice that is already in place in Scottish schools which is delivering a wide range of Scottish-focused teaching across the curriculum; calls on the working group to audit current practice in primary and secondary schools, including the skills and knowledge of teachers in this area and to determine the way in which a new subject will add to the work that is already being undertaken and to guard against marginalisation of Scottish studies, and looks forward to scrutinising the working group’s recommendations.
That the Parliament agrees that it is essential that all young people should have the opportunity to learn and be better informed about their country and its place in the world, including its historical, literary, linguistic and cultural inheritance as well as its landscape and natural heritage, and that such learning provides a more relevant and connected learning experience that raises ambition and attainment for all, but believes that these educational opportunities are already extensively and successfully embedded in the curriculum without the need for the addition of discrete Scottish Studies.