The impact of Scots in Curriculum for Excellence: new report published

Laura Green, English teacher and Education Specialist at Scots Language Centre, discusses her recent work in supporting the teaching of Scots with Education Scotland and Scots Language Centre. The report ‘Scots Language in Curriculum for Excellence’ has recently been published and is available on the National Improvement Hub.

What led to the ‘Scots Language in Curriculum for Excellence' report?

The report identifies that Scots can raise confidence, engage learners and enhance literacy skills.

In 2010, the government published their Scots Language Policy, acknowledging that Scots is one of our indigenous languages and the important role that education has in preserving and promoting Scots. Since then, there has been lots of emphasis on the teaching of Scots in schools ‘beyond Burns’ – Education Scotland employed Scots Language Coordinators, one of whom (Bruce Eunson) is still in role, to ensure that Scots is valued and taught in schools across the country. CfE Briefing 17: Scots Language was published, highlighting good practice in teaching Scots.

Lots of practitioners already recognised the value of teaching Scots in promoting Scottish culture, fostering a sense of national identity and improving literacy skills before this – but the teaching of Scots has gained considerable momentum in the last few years. Education Scotland were keen to begin to process of formally evaluating the potential benefits of using Scots in the classroom and reporting on the current ways Scots is used in different schools across the country.

What are the main findings of the report?

Author Matthew Fitt with a large group of pupils sitting on the classroom floor

The report identifies that, as perceived in the schools visited, Scots can raise confidence and engage learners. Furthermore, through observations of lessons and interviews with staff and children, there is an affirmation that Scots enhances literacy skills - in the lessons I observed, I regularly saw children making progress towards achieving benchmarks in Literacy and English experiences and outcomes through using Scots.

Another finding which was of particular interest to me is the way that Scots encourages children to use higher order thinking skills – they closely analyse the connotations and inferences of language by comparing Scots vocabulary with English.

Any memorable observations?

There is striking evidence that learning Scots can aid reading strategies.

There were two lessons that particularly stood out for me. One was in a primary school where children in Primary 3 were being taught drama through the medium of Scots. The learners were immersed in Scots - their teacher spoke Scots; the musical they performed (‘The Gingerbread Mannie’) was a Scots text; their warm-up activity was singing and dancing to ‘Heid, Shooders, Shanks an Taes’. The children performed their lines from the play and sang their songs with such enthusiasm and confidence. Following the observation, I interviewed some of the children. When asked if lessons in Scots were any different to lessons in English, one girl said, ‘…at first you don’t understand it and then you get used to it because the teacher says the same words and you get to know what they mean. It’s like learning new English words. You get to guess the word with how it sounds...' I was impressed - this is striking evidence that learning Scots can aid reading strategies.

Another observation that is especially noteworthy came from a Scottish Studies lesson in a Senior Phase class. The class were translating a newspaper article from English to Scots. The exercise encouraged learners to think carefully about the connotations and inferences of the language they used - for example, one young person wanted to translate the word ‘talk’ and considered using ‘blether’, but discarded it, saying that the connotations of blether are ‘talking rubbish, taking nonsense’. Another young person discussed with me the word ‘disgusted’ and decided to use the Scots word ‘scunnered’, saying that it suggested ‘put out, undercut, fed up and disgusted’. It was really encouraging to see that the skills these learners were using correlated so clearly and strongly with the skills they required to progress in National Qualifications in English.

Author Matthew Fitt with P5 pupils learning Scots
How can teachers use this report to enhance their own teaching of Scots?

I think that this report is reassuring. Sometimes teachers may be nervous of criticism they might face for teaching Scots due to worries about the perceived status of the language. The various ways in which the teaching of Scots had an impact on literacy skills are described, which will be encouraging for many.

The report is also useful in that it demonstrates how Scots is suitable for use in a variety of curricular areas and levels. For example, one of the benefits discussed in the report is that learners are given the opportunity to use and understand Scots at BGE level, encouraging them to develop their skills prior to the Senior Phase, where they are required to show their learning and understanding of a Scottish text. Overall, the report could be used by practitioners to assist them in planning and designing Scots language activities.

How can teachers access help and resources for teaching Scots?

There are lot of free resources available: Scots Language Centre, which has an education page which is frequently updated with links to teaching resources; The Scots Language Blether, which is a SharePoint on Glow featuring a Yammer feed where practitioners can share ideas; as well as websites such as The Scuil Wab from Scots Language Dictionaries or Scots Hoose from Itchy Coo Publishing. Practitioners should look out for new resources that are being developed by Education Scotland in collaboration with Scots Language Centre, including a writing competition where children can win a set of books for their class.

The Scots Language Centre is the main online provider of information about Scots. The Centre wants to improve accessibility to its web site and make its education resources as useful as possible. They'd like to hear your views on how this can be achieved - please take a moment to share your opinions with them by completing this survey or emailing Laura Green at l.green@scotslanguage.com.

If you liked this blog post, check out our other blog posts about Scots in schools, or head on over to our resources section where you can search for Scots teaching activities. You can also hear author Matthew Fitt, plus staff and pupils from St Andrews Primary School in Dundee, speak about a fantastic Scots project in this video.

Laura Green

Laura Green is an English teacher and the Education Specialist for Scots Language Centre. She has worked with Education Scotland, Scots Language Dictionaries and SQA. You can find her on Twitter @fairpechtoot.