Labour should focus its criticism on literacy levels, rather than on the teaching of Scotland’s history and culture, says AILEEN COLLERAN


Although I can understand the obvious temptation to immediately accuse the SNP government of politicising the curriculum by announcing that Scottish studies should be introduced into our schools, aren’t we falling into their trap by immediately denouncing this ?

To say that an increased emphasis on Scottish literature and history will automatically brainwash young people into voting SNP is to imply that environmental education automatically creates a generation of green voters. If environmental education were 100 percent effective then I wouldn’t be inundated with complaints about litter problems in streets adjacent to secondary schools; it’s as if a hormonal switch is thrown on leaving primary school and all those keen eco-schoolers from P7 discover takeaways in first year and the joys of scattering polystyrene containers around the neighbourhood.

Although it’s a bit historical by now, reflecting on my own educational experience, I do recognise that I didn’t have a structured introduction to Scottish literature, history and culture. Being an avid reader , I managed to fill in the gaps myself, but what is scary is how much my educational experience depended on the whims and interests of individual teachers.

The English department of my secondary school was in thrall to the kitchen sink drama and literature of the ’60s – so Barry Hines, Alan Sillitoe et al featured large, coupled with the obligatory Shakespeare (and who on earth thinks “Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a good introduction for giggly teens to the Bard?).

It took until fifth year for a teacher to introduce us to Burns and the rich canon of Scots literature. He was an American on a teacher exchange.

I do remember a school trip to the Wallace monument during primary school but it was all a bit random and not part of the curriculum. We didn’t “get” Scottish history in primary (the Romans and dinosaurs was pretty much it). In secondary it was mostly the Romans (again) then swiftly on to the industrial revolution and the events leading up to World War One. Anything after that was Modern Studies.

The best form of education is to empower children and young people to discover their own truths and understanding. That’s why literacy is so important. Reading off the curriculum and not being overly guided by teachers and adults in terms of what they “should” read or think is the most powerful and significant educational tool we can give to the next generation.

I’m not overly concerned about the implications of introducing elements of “Scottish” culture into the curriculum; what’s far more important is implementing strategies to address literacy levels in children and adults, protecting and developing our public libraries and improving access to literature and information. That’s far more important than allowing us to be drawn on to the campaigning ground of “we’re more Scottish than you”. Because that’s where the SNP would dearly love us to fight.

Aileen Colleran is the sole Labour councillor in the four-member ward of Partick West in Glasgow, and a former librarian. Follow Aileen on Twitter at @ColleranAileen.