Academic demands history revision
ONE of Scotland's leading academics has produced a nine-point strategy to lay out the key stages of the nation's history, which he claims will radically improve the way children are taught about their country's past.
Professor Tom Devine, the holder of the Sir William Fraser Chair of Scottish History at the University of Edinburgh, has told government officials that a complete shake-up of history provision is needed so that pupils properly understand Scotland's place in the world.
The author of the international bestseller The Scottish Nation has claimed a new syllabus, stretching from the 14th century Wars of Independence to the present day is needed.
The intervention comes amid concern from Scottish history teachers that the subject will be downgraded as part of an ongoing review of the curriculum. However, Devine has told the Executive's education department that nine core modules, taught from primary school up until the age of 18, are needed to ensure a proper grounding in the subject.
At the moment, teachers are free to decide what is taught, and subjects learned in high schools are as diverse as the Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae, the 18th century Jacobite Rebellion and the Second World War.
However, the deeds of some of Scotland's most famous men, such as the prize-winning economist Adam Smith, and the philosopher David Hume, are not even touched upon.
Devine has told Executive officials that the following should be taught:
The Making of the Scottish Nation (14th Century)
Anglo-Scottish Relations and why the Union Happened
The hotbed of genius and the Scottish Enlightenment
Scotland's Transformation and the Highland Clearances
Scotland's role in the Empire
The Two World Wars
Nationalism and Devolution to the present day
Devine said last night: "There has to be some coherence in how history is taught, and these modules would give an intellectual spine to the influences that have shaped Scotland as a nation in the last 700 years.
"Most of our children would come out of school with a clear idea of how the country came to be. It would make the subject interesting and stimulating and get rid of the pop-up, dip-in and dip-out approach.
"The overall aim would be to give children an understanding of Scotland's role in the world, without at all being parochial."
However, Devine admitted that he would be "stunned" if the Executive decided to follow his advice. He said: "None of the subject areas I am talking about are properly covered at the moment, but everything I have suggested goes against what the Executive seem to stand for. They don't like to intervene and are unlikely to tell schools what should be studied, but they don't seem to have any ideas of their own either."
Devine's suggestions were last night welcomed by the Scottish Association of Teachers of History (SATH), who had earlier asked the historian for suggestions on how to improve history teaching in schools.
Sam Henry, the association's president, said: "We would be foolish in the extreme to ignore Tom Devine, for whom we have the utmost respect. I thoroughly agree there has to be more coherence and progression in the curriculum.
"It is a pick-and-mix curriculum which can lead to pupils learning the same subjects in S1 as they did in P7."
Peter Hillis, professor of history education at the University of Strathclyde, responsible for training Scottish history teachers, also backed Devine's advice.
Hillis said: "There is no structure set down for teaching Scottish history at school. The Enlightenment, with the genius of economist Adam Smith and philosopher David Hume, is not covered at all.
"It used to be on the old 'O' Grade syllabus but it fell away. The lack of consistency across the curriculum means children will never hear about these men at school, although they might cover the Romans twice, or even three times."
There is currently no requirement for schools to offer history as a subject, except in the first two years of secondary. However, pupils currently receive only an average of 55 minutes teaching in S1, and 53 minutes in S2.
Headteachers at Lochend Community High and Govan High, both in Glasgow, have already decided to "phase out" the subject for first-year and second-year pupils from next year, amid concern that the Executive wants to downgrade it.
A row erupted last year following comments made by Peter Peacock, the education minister, which seemed to suggest that history might not remain a stand-alone subject in the first two years of secondary school. He has since stated that it is "absolutely clear" that history will remain as a subject in schools, but could also be taught in other lessons.
An Executive spokeswoman said last night: "It is too early to say what changes will be made as part of our curriculum review, but we are taking very seriously what people are telling us, and that includes Tom Devine."
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