SCOTTISH pupils are leaving school with little knowledge of their nation’s past because history is being squeezed out of the curriculum, the country’s foremost historian claims today.
Professor Tom Devine says it is "an educational scandal" that overloaded timetables and competition from other subjects have been allowed to reduce the amount of time pupils spend studying Scottish history.
Writing in The Scotsman, he calls on ministers to address "this unacceptable neglect of our heritage" but warns that politicians may face resistance from the educational establishment.
Prof Devine says that, while more imaginative teaching methods have been introduced, there has been "a significant cut" in the amount of time allocated to history lessons. "With so little time available, it is inevitable that Scottish history, despite the best efforts of many teachers, will be marginalised," he says.
"There may be more Scottish history taught within the history curriculum in our secondary schools than a generation ago, but this improvement is still meagre and patchy.
"Overloaded timetables, competition from other subjects and pupil choice mean that the majority of young Scots have little more than the sketchiest knowledge of the nation’s past. This is an educational scandal, especially in an age of devolution."
Prof Devine goes on: "Let us hope that ministers and civil servants listen to the growing number of voices who are ashamed of this unacceptable neglect of our heritage in their ongoing review of the curriculum - but one should not be too optimistic. The powers that be in education have a firm resistance to prescribing what should be taught in Scotland’s classrooms, although such intervention is probably essential if more precious curriculum time is to be devoted to a study of the shaping of the present condition of the nation through an examination of its past."
Prof Devine’s comments were welcomed yesterday by Sam Henry, the president of the Scottish Association of Teachers of History. Mr Henry, a teacher at Lochgelly High School in Fife, said: "Some type of minimum time being set down for the teaching of history, and Scottish history in particular, is very important because, without it, I think we are not doing justice to pupils and their grasp of their own heritage and their ability to come to terms with the world."
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Executive stressed that Scottish history was taught in schools - but that it was up to local authorities to decide how much.
She said: "The curriculum in Scotland is non-statutory and we don’t prescribe how much time needs to be spent on each subject.
"Scottish history is part of the history syllabus, but it is for local authorities and schools themselves to decide how subjects are taught."