School Curriculum (Scottish History)

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:04 pm on 30 January 2008.

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Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None 2:04, 30 January 2008

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-1238, in the name of Maureen Watt, on the importance of Scottish history in the school curriculum.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party 2:58, 30 January 2008

I am delighted to introduce this timely and important debate on ensuring that young people in Scotland develop a proper understanding of Scotland's and their own place in the world, in relation both to what is happening today and to what has happened historically.

I begin with some very recent history. Just two weeks ago, the Parliament debated the expert analysis of Scottish education that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development published recently. The OECD's report commended the on-going reform and modernisation of the Scottish curriculum, through the curriculum for excellence. That is the context of the motion that we have brought to the Parliament.

I will say a few words about the curriculum for excellence, because we are here not only to discuss the teaching of history—and social studies more broadly—in our schools, but to give some thought to what it is about education that can make this country and its people confident, skilled and successful. People are Scotland's powerhouse. For Scotland to be all that it can be, all our people need to develop skills in the widest sense, so that they can fulfil their potential. By increasing sustainable economic growth, we can create a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish. We need a smarter Scotland to support the Government's overarching purpose of achieving sustainable economic growth and its other strategic objectives: a wealthier and fairer, healthier, safer and stronger, and greener Scotland.

Our concordat with local government includes 15 outcomes that characterise the kind of country that we want to build. One of those outcomes is:

"Our young people are successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens."

That is the language of the curriculum for excellence. It is a mark of the Government's support and respect for the ambitions of that programme of reform that its key goals are incorporated within the concordat.

Achieving the outcome that I have mentioned is important in its own right, but doing so will also be a major contributing factor to achieving the other outcomes. Through the national indicator relating to increasing the proportion of school leavers in sustained and positive destinations, we are sending a strong message about what we think is important. The focus is therefore rightly on the outcome and what happens to young people beyond school. To achieve what we want, we need every young person to develop the four capacities to their full potential.

There is, of course, much in Scottish education that we can be proud of, as the OECD found, but it is unacceptable that our well-resourced and well-regarded education system does not make the difference for all our children, particularly those from low socioeconomic backgrounds. As a country, we must maximise the economic potential of all our citizens. As a caring society, we must ensure that we get things right for every child. As the OECD report noted, with our modern economy, we must recognise the importance of higher-order cognitive, organisational and communication skills in our young people.

Our aim is to ensure that young people have skills for learning, skills for work and skills for life. That means that there must be a coherent curriculum from three to 18; a focus on outcomes; more vocational opportunities; a focus on literacy and numeracy at every stage; appropriate stretching and pacing for every child; and teachers working together to make coherent sense of what each child is being taught.

The Government is fully committed to the curriculum for excellence programme as the means of achieving those aims; indeed, the Scottish National Party was the only party that made a specific commitment to the curriculum for excellence in its manifesto. The curriculum for excellence encourages and challenges teachers to think about and develop their teaching, so that it is as good as it can be. That is for teachers and schools to do; we are not talking about a centralised or top-down initiative.

To do such things effectively, teachers need support and challenges from everybody concerned, including parents, employers, people in further and higher education, local authorities, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education and the Scottish Government. We want every school and teacher to examine critically their teaching and planning, explicitly for the purpose of developing and improving.

The role of local and national Government is to create the conditions that will allow that to happen. The Scottish Government and local authorities can provide tools to help. We are revising the guidance on the framework within which the curriculum can be organised to allow space for innovation and a focus on all four capacities. We are producing curriculum guidance to update content, focus on outcomes and emphasise the need for every teacher to contribute to the development of skills, particularly literacy and numeracy skills. We are providing guidance on and examples of interdisciplinary projects and studies so that teachers can work together on outcomes and make connections between different areas of young people's learning.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I do not wish to be unkind to the minister in any way, but when will she address the subject of the debate, which is the importance of Scottish history in the school curriculum? She is six minutes into her speech.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

I am coming to that. If the member reads the motion, he will see that it focuses on other matters, too.

We are looking at how assessment can best be used to support real learning and are consulting on proposals for qualifications at standard grade credit and general and at intermediate 1 and 2 levels, which correspond to Scottish credit and qualifications framework levels 4 and 5.

Curriculum for excellence should be and is being implemented already. Government-provided materials are not necessary for teachers to build on and improve their existing practice. Our children need the best possible teaching now.

Forthcoming guidance will give a stronger impetus to continuous improvement. Learning and Teaching Scotland has already published, for discussion with and within the profession, a significant quantity of draft guidance in the form of draft curriculum outcomes and experiences. The remainder will be released during the rest of the present academic session and will be finalised in the next session. Guidance on the framework within which the experiences and outcomes can be used will be drafted alongside them. We expect that the guidance will be phased in after 2008-09, to replace the present five-to-14 curriculum and to provide an integrated curriculum from three to 18.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I am interested that the minister is outlining the draft outcomes in social studies, but has the SNP Government made any changes to the reforms that were carried out under the curriculum for excellence or, for that matter, those that were implemented under the Scottish Qualifications Authority's review of highers, which was put in place by her predecessor?

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

We certainly have, by ensuring that outcomes over a wider range of areas will have a Scottish spine. We have sought to integrate Scottish history, culture and language into the new outcomes for the curriculum.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

No.

We know that it is possible for pupils who have taken the current higher and advanced higher courses to leave school with a greater knowledge of aspects of history outwith Scotland than of Scottish history. That situation is being addressed by the decision to introduce a compulsory Scottish element in the higher examination, which has been well received by the profession. I, too, warmly welcome it.

Last week, as part of the on-going schedule of releasing draft guidance on different areas of the curriculum, Learning and Teaching Scotland published, for engagement with the profession, draft outcomes in social studies. Social studies includes the study of experiences and outcomes in historical, geographical, social, political, economic and business contexts.

It is important that children and young people understand where they live and the heritage of their families and communities. Teaching our young people about the history and current context of Scotland is not about brainwashing them into adopting a single set of political beliefs. It is about ensuring that they have enough good-quality information and understanding to make their own informed decisions and judgments.

Nature abhors a vacuum. If we do not properly teach all our young people about the history and current context of their country and society, the vacuum will be filled with the often misguided imagery of Hollywood, and that will do none of us any good at all. The future well-being of our country and, indeed, the future quality of political debate require a good foundation of cultural understanding and knowledge.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

The minister used to be a teacher. Does she think that the film "Braveheart" gave an accurate depiction of Scottish history?

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

It certainly created an interest in Scottish history and Scotland, and focused people's minds on the period of history in question. I am sure that, after watching the film, they went away to discover more about the real picture.

Let us be clear: we are not talking about some sort of public relations exercise to glorify Scotland's past, in the way that "Braveheart" might have done. We are talking about encouraging young people to reach personal conclusions on different aspects of social studies, such as human and ethical issues in the past, the land use and ecological dilemmas that face us, and political, economic and social issues. Lessons need to be learned from the mistakes of the past as well as the glories and successes.

When it is taught well, history has significant potential to contribute to the curriculum for excellence's four capacities and to our objective of a smarter Scotland. Studies of Scottish history are already found in almost all primary and secondary schools. However, we cannot be sure that pupils' engagement with history enables them to understand how Scotland has developed.

Our goal with the curriculum for excellence is to ensure that all our young people benefit from the best possible teaching across the whole spectrum of curriculum areas. Social studies, as described in the draft guidance issued by Learning and Teaching Scotland last week, offers excellent opportunities for children and young people to focus on the historical, social, geographic, economic and political changes that have shaped Scotland. With greater understanding of such issues comes the opportunity to influence events by exercising informed and responsible citizenship.

The Government wants a progressive, successful, confident Scotland for the 21st century. As a people, we will not know where we are going—or whether we have got there—if we do not know where we have been. Our ambitions for education and for Scotland are high. The on-going reform of our curriculum, evidenced by the recent publication of draft outcomes in social studies, is a welcome indicator of our confident, progressive approach.

For those reasons, I am pleased to move, That the Parliament recognises the importance of ensuring that young people understand Scotland's and their place in the world, both currently and in a historical context, and in pursuit of this aim welcomes the opportunities for more exciting, engaging and relevant teaching presented by the Curriculum for Excellence and, in particular, the publication of the draft social studies outcomes and experiences by Learning and Teaching Scotland, along with the recent decision by the Scottish Qualifications Authority to include questions on Scottish history as a compulsory component of the Higher History examination.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour 3:11, 30 January 2008

I wonder how many speakers in the debate will have cast their minds back to their school days and study of history, as I have done. I found it impossible to think about history in the school curriculum without vividly remembering my history lessons. I recalled field trips to Vindolanda and Hadrian's wall, and I remembered lessons about Robert Owen, David Dale and the New Lanark mills, the slave trade, and the reasons for the outbreak of the first world war.

My father was a history teacher and I studied history at university. I suspect that, like me, many members enjoy the subject, particularly Scottish history. For that reason, I think that there is much common ground in the Parliament. On the face of it, there is nothing in the motion that I disagree with. It will be interesting to note whether other members who are history graduates will speak in the debate. I think that the sort of person who likes history and benefits from that quintessentially liberal education is also drawn to politics. The study of history taught me not what to think but how to think. It taught me how to question events, decisions and political actions. I hope to say more about that.

I am not sure whether the SNP expected us to throw up our hands in horror at the thought of a compulsory Scottish history question in the higher exam. I fully support the idea. If we do not teach Scottish history, who will? However, we should say for the record that the two developments that are the subject of the motion began life under the previous, Labour-led Administration. A Labour minister initiated the reforms that have been put in place through the curriculum for excellence, which culminated in the publication of the draft social studies outcomes. The same is true of the SQA's review of higher history. If the timing of the review had been different, the announcement about higher history could easily have been made under a Labour Administration.

In her response to my intervention, the minister referred to the Scottish spine that the new SNP Government has apparently added. I ask her or the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning to point me to a specific decision or document that backs up her remark. The two initiatives that are mentioned in the motion do not do so.

Discussing history is enjoyable and important, but is history really the most worrying aspect of our current or developing curriculum? There is little disagreement in the Parliament about the importance of history. Why do we need a debate on it, given that we have the makings of a consensus? I cannot help feeling that the debate has been generated to focus on the importance not of history but of Scottishness. It will be interesting to hear members' speeches. I worry that the debate is not about broadening young minds but has a more limited perspective, which is about trying to get young people to see the world from a particularly narrow and nationalistic viewpoint.

The contrast this week is that, while the SNP obsesses—unnecessarily, given the agreement on the issue—about how Scottish our history curriculum is, the Labour Party announced that it will publish a bill on skills. My colleague John Park will lodge a member's bill to address some of the real gaps in our education system and the needs of our young people. In a week that saw the publication of worrying statistics, the question for the SNP is, why did it not bring forward for debate its policies on school discipline?

Photo of Bill Wilson Bill Wilson Scottish National Party

I am curious about the member's claim that we are taking a narrow, nationalistic view of history. Does that mean that he would condemn schools in Argentina for teaching about Jose de San Martin in their history classes on the grounds that that would teach young Argentinean pupils how their nation was formed and how it struggled to be free from the imperial power—in this case, Spain?

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

My point is that, given the agreement in the chamber—and probably outside it, too—on the importance of Scottish history, the SNP has brought the debate to the chamber to promote not the benefits of history but a Scottish viewpoint. Mr Wilson's remarks absolutely back me up in that fear Even if we restrict ourselves to the shortcomings of studying history in Scottish schools, one of the biggest problems that our teachers have identified is the lack of literacy skills that some young people display, which prevents them accessing the history curriculum. Why did the SNP not bring forward a debate on literacy or numeracy?

I hope that all members agree to Labour's addendum to the motion. It adds a note of realism in identifying some of the difficulties that history teachers and others in our schools face and the political action that is needed.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party

Mr Macintosh will be aware of Carol Craig's work, which stems from a reflection that Scots lack confidence. One reason for that is that they have little knowledge of the glories of their past achievements, whether the Scottish enlightenment or the contribution that Scots have made to the modern world. Unfortunately, all too often in the past, our children have not been taught about those in school. Our aim is to build the confidence of our young people. In future, they should see the world as their oyster and feel that they can achieve a lot. That is the whole point of the debate.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I agree with some of what Mr Ingram said, and I certainly agree with Carol Craig's comments on confidence building. In fact, in the video that we all as MSPs made in the first session on the things that we could do to transform Scotland, I made the same points. However, learning history is about building confidence. Mr Ingram is talking not about learning history but about learning to become more Scottish. I do not see how learning to become more Scottish makes someone more confident. In contrast, learning about history gives people confidence.

Of course, I am sure that history teachers and others will have brought their issues and anxieties to the attention of the minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning. For example, the move to broader social studies faculties has left a residue of worry about whether the change has lowered the status of discrete disciplines such as history and geography.

There are concerns about integrated teaching. Few are against a more collaborative approach to teaching or the need for greater coherence in our approach to social studies. However, we have to question, or at least monitor, whether non-history teachers are as good at teaching history as those teachers who have expertise in and are enthusiastic about the subject. Although those are matters for local interpretation and decision making, we should beware of decisions that are taken in the name of integrated teaching that are budget cuts or cost-saving measures in disguise.

I draw the minister's attention to a letter from Mr Duncan Toms, the president of the Scottish Association of Teachers of History, that was published in The Scotsman last week. Mr Toms made three very good points. First, if we are to teach more Scottish history—which I hope we agree on—will we have to lose another broader part of the history curriculum? Will the gain come at the expense of equally important British, European or world history? What gives way for that additional learning?

Secondly, it is all very well talking about the importance of Scottish history, but where is the additional investment? Where is the money for new books, high-quality resources and new curricular material? If we are to expand the range of options that we make available to our young people, surely the Executive should lead on that.

Mr Toms's third point, which I strongly endorse, is that history exists not to help us to puff ourselves up, but to help us to understand how society has developed. History provides knowledge, but, more important, it helps us to evaluate and to develop our critical faculties, and thereby to weigh the evidence and arguments for ourselves, not to view subjects through a nationalist prism.

The last time the SNP raised the issue of history for debate, Fiona Hyslop in opposition set up the false premise that somehow the Labour-led Scottish Executive was hell-bent on eradicating history from the curriculum—"to make history history", as she put it. Labour's threat, she said, lay in the curriculum for excellence, which was going to destroy history as a stand-alone subject in secondary 1 and secondary 2. Well, those very reforms have come to fruition and have been published under this Administration, and—surprise, surprise—they are no longer a threat but a blessing. If the curriculum for excellence was such a threat to the teaching of history when Peter Peacock was the Minister for Education and Young People, why is it not a threat to the teaching of history under this new SNP Administration? The minister's scaremongering then can now be seen for what it was.

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning has talked in this Parliament about promoting a Scottish world view in our education system. The Times Educational Supplement this week reflects on how her Scottishness can be translated into education. Overwhelmingly, what leaps out from the comments of the various writers is that, in the hands of a good teacher, the immediacy and familiarity of our own experience can bring a subject alive, but that as an end in itself it is limited and parochial.

I quote Mr Toms again:

"For a young person growing up in today's global society, too much Scottish history can be as disadvantageous as too little."

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

I hold in my hand a piece of Scottish history—the "Chambers Educational Course: History of Scotland". The book is 130 years old. If the education system in the 1870s had the insight to teach Scottish history, what is Labour afraid of today? National pride, maybe?

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I thank Ms McKelvie for her intervention, but all these interventions just confirm my fear that the debate is about national pride in Scotland and not about teaching history and educating and opening young minds. I was worried that Ms McKelvie was holding an SNP manifesto from the 1970s, containing many other broken SNP promises.

The minister and SNP members have no monopoly on Scottishness. The minister's narrow view of what it means to be Scottish is not mine. I am no less Scottish than any nationalist here, and I am no less proud of Scotland's history than any member on the Government seats. However, I do not view history as a way of indoctrinating our young people with a narrow view of the world—quite the reverse. It is a way of opening our eyes to enable us to understand the world around us. History enables us to know not only who we are and where we came from, but—more important—what we may be. History is not about propaganda. It is about using the intellect and releasing the imagination.

SNP members made a lot of noise in opposition about what Labour was going to do. They created a bogeyman in the curriculum for excellence that they claimed would threaten history. However, in office, they have changed nothing. The Learning and Teaching Scotland reforms and the Scottish Qualifications Authority review were both started under a Labour Administration and there has been no change in policy direction.

The minister may believe that by promoting Scottish history she will promote her view of the world. I believe that, by supporting the study of Scottish history, we will give a whole new generation of pupils access to the sort of liberal education that will enable them to look beyond these shores, to challenge the orthodoxy of received opinion, and, I hope, to build a better world.

I move amendment S3M-1238.2, to insert at end:

"further recognises that without basic literacy and numeracy skills young people have difficulty accessing the curriculum, including history, and calls on the Scottish Government to provide leadership to tackle literacy and numeracy in Scottish schools which will facilitate an improved understanding of history."

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 3:23, 30 January 2008

The Scottish Conservatives are pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the important issue of Scottish history in the school curriculum. I thought that I might have wandered into the wrong debate earlier, because the minister was eight minutes into her 11-minute speech before she even mentioned history. I am delighted that we got there in the end.

The debate really started a few weeks ago, with comments made by the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning in The Scotsman about the teaching of Scottish history. I agreed with much of what she said. Of course, Fiona Hyslop is by no means the first Scottish politician to take an interest in Scottish history. In January 1997, the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Forsyth, asked the Scottish Qualifications Authority to consider introducing a standard grade in Scottish history. That coincided with the then imminent publication of the final consultation paper of the Scottish consultative council on the curriculum's review of Scottish history in the curriculum, which had also been requested by Michael Forsyth's civil service team.

I point out as gently as I can to Ken Macintosh that the proposals were abandoned in May 1997 by the new Government, following Labour's victory in the general election. Rather ironically, it was reported at the time that the review had been suppressed because it was thought by the new Labour Government to be "too nationalist" in tone. Here we are, 11 years on, with the current Government following in the footsteps of the Conservatives all those years ago, and the need for proper teaching of Scottish history is as important as ever.

The level of ignorance among many young people about the history of our country is quite startling. A recent survey showed that when offered reasons why Scotland became part of the United Kingdom, 37 per cent of young Scots said that it was because English forces conquered us and 28 per cent thought that it was a result of a referendum, but only 24 per cent opted for the correct answer, which is that the Scots Parliament at the time voted for it. Similarly, the battle of Culloden was seen as a conflict between "wholly Scottish and wholly English armies" by 41 per cent. Of course, most Scots at the time of the battle of Culloden supported the Government's side—a fact that is all too often forgotten. As we know from history, when news of the result of the battle reached the central belt there were celebrations in Scottish cities at the defeat of the Jacobites. That history is not well remembered today. Children were similarly unenlightened about Scotland's contribution both to the industrial revolution and the enlightenment. One child even thought that Ramsay MacDonald was famous for the invention of the hamburger.

We therefore applaud the Government's intention to strengthen the teaching of Scottish history in the school curriculum. However, we have some qualifications, which are addressed in my amendment. We certainly do not wish Scottish history to become parochial and inward looking.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I am delighted to hear Rob Gibson agreeing with me.

From 1707 onwards, Scottish history is linked with that of Great Britain, and it of course needs to be seen in a world context. Like Ken Macintosh, we do not want a nationalist tinge to Scottish history teaching. Enough myths already exist about Scottish history without Government seeking to add to them and present a "Braveheart" version of our country's past. I was reassured by what the minister said on that point, although she was rather undermined by SNP backbenchers' interventions—perhaps she will be undermined again.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

What does the member suggest would be a nationalist tinge to the teaching of Scottish history?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

If the member listened to his colleagues, he would know exactly what our concerns are.

We should not be inward looking; we should be outward looking and we should recognise Scotland's role in the United Kingdom and in the world. We make that point gently in our amendment, and the Liberals make it rather less gently in theirs, but the point is important. I hope that SNP members support the amendments, because that would reinforce my view of what, I hope, can unite us all—that we should not have a partisan viewpoint on the teaching of history. I think that we can all agree on that.

We need to be wary that we do not concentrate too much on the negative aspects of Scottish history. Whether we are talking about the collapse of the Darien scheme, the aftermath of Culloden or the Highland clearances, too often there is a tendency to portray the Scots as victims. I remember my grandmother complaining to me that the only Scottish history that she was taught in school was about the clearances. The fact that she started her school education in 1897 demonstrates how long the problem has been around. We all know that Scots have made a tremendous contribution to the world, both as part of the UK and on our own. The teaching of Scottish history needs to be about celebrating our successes in the past as much as hearing about the darker aspects.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Does the member recognise that one of this Administration's contributions was to include in the draft science outcomes that were published some months ago the history of Scottish science and the inventions that Scotland has contributed to the world, in order to inspire young Scots' interest in science?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Absolutely. I am pleased that that point was reinforced, although stressing the successes of the past is nothing new in the teaching of science. However, it is important for young Scots to have role models and to learn about those who led the way in the past.

Going back to Adam Ingram's point, I am something of a sceptic about Carol Craig's thesis about a crisis of confidence. However, any ammunition that helps us to ensure that more Scottish history is taught in our schools and is taught to young people is much to be welcomed.

If we are to teach Scottish history well, we must have high-quality courses and ensure that the correct teaching resources are available. That will require Government investment, including investment in our teachers. That point is also addressed in our amendment.

We must remember that we have never had a nationally set compulsory curriculum in Scotland, and therefore it is for individual schools to decide which subjects are offered. I do not want that situation to change. By all means, let us encourage the teaching of Scottish history, but let us avoid a top-down approach from the centre.

I hope that the Government is prepared to take on board the concerns that I have raised. I welcome the general thrust of its work on the teaching of Scottish history and I have pleasure in moving the amendment in my name.

I move amendment S3M-1238.1, to insert at end:

"however, emphasises that it is important that Scottish history is taught in a balanced manner, which encourages young people to evaluate the evidence critically and come to their own conclusions, and that it is taught in its rightful context, namely alongside local, British, European and world history, and further emphasises that courses must be of a high quality with teachers being supported by new teaching resources and continuing professional development training as necessary."

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat 3:30, 30 January 2008

I am happy to speak to and move the amendment in my name and, indeed, to take part in this—dare I say it—historic debate. It is a real relief to be able to use the word "historic" without it being attached to the word "concordat" for a change.

The purpose of the debate is to focus on issues relating to history. As Murdo Fraser said, I was perhaps a bit more pointed in my amendment in expressing my concerns about the motion than the Conservatives were in their amendment, but there is an issue to be examined.

We must be clear that the legitimate responsibility for content and structure rests with the SQA and the teaching profession. There is no question about that. The Liberal Democrats endorse the SQA's decision to include a compulsory Scottish history element in the curriculum but urge caution on the Government—any Government but, given that we have an SNP Government, the remark is addressed to it in this instance—that interference in the specifics and context of subject matter is not a matter for Government of any political or philosophical complexion in any circumstances.

What we do about history matters. The often-repeated saying that those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them has a lot of truth, but we must ask what the lessons of history are. That is not a question to which politicians should necessarily give too much attention. The attempt at defining the lessons is a ground for new conflicts, as we have heard from some of the speeches and interventions thus far. History is not a recipe book; past events are never replicated in quite the same way in the present. Historical events are infinitely variable and their interpretations are constantly shifting. There are no certainties to be found in the past, nor should we attempt to drive any narrow political agenda by using the teaching of Scottish history to justify any particular party-political or philosophical perspective.

We can learn from history how past generations thought and acted, how they responded to the demands of their times and how they resolved their problems. We can learn by analogy but not necessarily by example, because our circumstances will always be different from theirs. The main thing that history can teach us is that our actions and inactions have consequences and that once certain choices have been made, they cannot easily be undone and cannot be undone without further consequences.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

Does Hugh O'Donnell agree that there is a further important philosophical point? History is also about the thought processes of people in the past and how to understand them within their settings. It is not necessarily about what happened or what the results were but about how people in the past thought and why they thought the way they did.

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat

That is a well-considered point and I am happy to accept it.

Student interest in history as a subject in Scotland is relatively stable, certainly at standard or higher grade. There were 34,900 pupils in total in 2007, slightly fewer in 2006 and 2005 and about 34,000 again in 2004. That shows a good interest in Scottish history and history as a subject in general.

As the minister said, the study of history also develops analytical, evaluative, investigative and communicative skills. Although we agree with the sentiments that the cabinet secretary has expressed outside this place about the importance of our young people understanding our historical roots and the experiences that brought us to this point, we must ensure that history is contextualised against the wider backdrop of European and world events.

Liberal Democrats are concerned about whether there will be enough time. Will the proposals require a rejigging of timetables and of opportunities for continuing professional development for the teaching profession? Is it likely that the cabinet secretary will consider cuts in other areas to accommodate history? That needs to be clarified, and I hope that the cabinet secretary will do that when she sums up.

To return to the issue of content, it would not be appropriate for any Government, and particularly—we cannot escape it—a nationalist Government, to use the teaching of history as a mechanism for blaming the trials and tribulations of our country on a near neighbour, regardless of how attractive that might be to a party that is bent on independence. I have had assurances from SNP back benchers that that is not the intent. Nor is it acceptable for any Government to do such a thing without a strong comparative and contextualised element. Otherwise, we head down the road of Joseph Stalin and Dr Goebbels.

It is not enough just to teach more Scottish history. If it is to be effective and engage young people, it must be about more than kings, queens and princes; it must include social history, local history and even personal history.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

I hesitate to intervene once the names of Goebbels and Stalin have been mentioned. While I agree with the member that, obviously, no Government would wish to use history as a means of espousing nationalist propaganda, I am sure that he agrees with me that there have been instances—I can remember some from school—of history being used to espouse unionist propaganda.

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat

I am not quite sure how to respond to that—it just reinforces the points that were being made.

Let us welcome this opportunity to enlighten our young people about Scotland's role in the world. The Government must remember that we are not made by our history alone. It is our actions in the present and our responsibilities for our future that dictate the success of any country.

I move amendment S3M-1238.3, to insert at end:

"and believes that history should be taught without political interference."

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party 3:38, 30 January 2008

As a history graduate and a writer of history, I declare a degree of interest. As a member of the Scottish National Party, I hope to analyse the context and content of our history as it is applied in schools today. It is only three years since the previous Minister for Education and Young People, Peter Peacock, said publicly that history could potentially disappear as a discrete subject in S1 and S2 classes, for various reasons. Several Glasgow and Ayrshire secondary schools had axed the subject of history completely, yet Mr Peacock declined to make any public comment on that.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

I am not taking any interventions at this stage.

We have come a long way to arrive at the Scottish Government position today, which underpins the confident expression of the importance of Scottish history in Scottish schools. When the SQA announced last November the near-future inclusion of a compulsory Scottish question in higher history, a spokesman for the Educational Institute of Scotland said:

"While it is important that pupils learn about the wider world, it is equally important that they have an appreciation of the history of their own country and its culture."

I believe that the aims of the debate are to explore Scottish history content in the syllabus to ensure that continuity through school life gives pupils the general sweep of our country's story.

As Professor Christopher Smout, the Queen's historiographer, said,

"Exact dates aren't important. But if you lose a sense of the sweep and depth of history and of why things were happening, it becomes boring."

Did not Peter Peacock say something about not subjecting pupils to boring subjects? Fortunately, Learning and Teaching Scotland has tackled the issue decisively through the curriculum for excellence. We are told:

"the quality of communication between primary and secondary schools has been variable. Hence the development of a balanced and coherent experience for pupils as they progress through the school system is far from guaranteed."

That was the problem that we faced. We must solve it now, by seeing that that sweep is possible.

That suggests that new governmental direction is required to ensure that educationists place Scottish history firmly in the curriculum. As one of the liberal arts, the subject should be used to allow people to achieve the four capacities in the curriculum for excellence—to be successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.

The context of the debate was summarised by the former chief inspector of schools, Douglas Osler, who said:

"In Scotland's present situation it's important that children know about Scottish culture and history and I don't think it is the kind of thing you can do in a single dose in S1 or S2 or even in primary".

He continued:

"It should not be an option. It is as important as learning English and mathematics and other major subjects because Scotland is a nation, it has a parliament and it is important that Scottish children know about their own identity if they are going to be able to relate to the identity of other nations in Europe and beyond."

At this point, I must comment on the amendments.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

I will come to the member in a minute.

Murdo Fraser takes a time-honoured path. His amendment mentions the need for balance, good resources, high-quality teaching and a trajectory from local history to British, European and world history. As he accepts the importance of Scottish history in the school curriculum, his amendment seems acceptable to me. However, he might spare a thought for Scottish children, perhaps in the north, seeing the links to our neighbours in countries such as Ireland, Norway and Iceland as being more than a nod towards the arc of prosperity; rather they should be viewed as links with fellow northern European peoples living in harsh climates whom the balmy south ignores and whose cultures tend to be democratic and communitarian, like ours.

Professor Duncan Rice of the University of Aberdeen noted that point in his 2005 Sabhal Mòr Ostaig lecture. He said that as a nation we are neither isolated nor at the end of the line. He said:

"To put it crudely, there is confidence to be found in not being alone".

He continued:

"confident nations will become economically productive nations, which is what our generation of Scots is so desperately worried about."

Even three years ago, people could see the difficulty of trying to make our history relate to the people with whom we must deal and who are all around us.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

I am coming to the member.

Surely, despite their amendment, the Liberal Democrats do not deny the facts behind the HMIE concerns about

"whether pupils in primary and early secondary were being given a full understanding of Scottish history because of the freedom given to schools over what is taught."

We must consider means of giving pupils a broader opportunity. I hope that education experts will consider the broad curriculum that Professor Tom Devine has suggested and that we will not be diverted into talking about issues such as literacy—as the Labour Party has been—because we all agree on those issues. We should consider the content of the curriculum more carefully to ensure that our young people have the broadest possible view. I am sorry that I cannot say as much as I wished to about the detail of trying to inspire young people to take such a view. However, through song and story, dance and empathy, the young eyes of children of all abilities can be opened. Scottish history, with good local examples, is the key.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

Can I try to intervene once more, Mr Gibson?

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

Sorry—I am in my final minute.

There are great characters to explore in Scottish history. What sparks can fly from good history teaching! It is high time that Scottish history caught light in our school curriculum. We should not shy away from deciding to stress its centrality in our schools, as the motion proposes.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour 3:45, 30 January 2008

As Ken Macintosh said, the skills and discipline that are essential for the study of history are important in their own right. Young people who are trained in historical method learn how to question received wisdom, examine sources critically, test motive and judge evidence. All of those skills are relevant, regardless of the career path that a person chooses to follow. Today, we might have some critical examination of the claims of ministers to do something differently, which is a position for which they have advanced no evidence whatsoever. Indeed, Rob Gibson's shameless rewriting of recent history is the best evidence of the need to examine very closely the SNP's claims and motives in this debate.

I studied history at school and university and, on occasion, I have taught history to undergraduate students. My doctoral thesis was concerned with modern African history, but I also completed a course on modern Scottish history in the fourth year of my undergraduate degree, which had a strong focus on the last 200 years, including the Highland clearances, the industrial revolution and red Clydeside.

However, long before I read Karl Marx's interesting views on Highland history, I learned a good deal more about the history of Scotland in general and Gaelic Scotland in particular from my parents and grandparents. Stories that have been passed down from one generation to another in Gaelic culture are a collective memory of the history of communities and form an invaluable record of what has often been a marginalised part of Scotland's story.

As a boy, I also imbibed the history of Scotland that was supported by BBC schools radio and taught in primary schools. That is where many of my generation got their first formal taste of Scottish history, and the high quality of much of that material remains vivid for me.

I welcome the proposition that the history of Scotland should be part of the history that is taught in Scotland's schools, but it is essential that it is not taught in isolation.

The earliest written account of events in Scotland dates from the first century of the Christian era, which means that the present century will mark 2,000 years of recorded history in this country. In all of those 20 centuries, what is most striking is the extent to which Scotland's history has been intertwined with the history of other countries and of other parts of these islands. The truly historic events have been not those that affected Scotland alone but those points in our history when our relationships with other countries changed—usually, when those relationships became closer than they had been before.

The arrival of the Romans in the first century, the coming of St Columba 500 years after that, the development of feudalism 1,000 years ago, the beginning and the end of the old alliance with France and the choice, instead, of alliance with England are all critical milestones in Scotland's history and they are all characterised by key decisions and developments in Scotland's relations with the outside world. The past 500 years are even more about the story of Scotland's relations with the wider world—the period of reform and union, of emigration and empire, of democracy and, now, devolution, of the war with fascism and the post-war welfare state. Scottish history is the story not of a self-absorbed nation looking in on itself, but of a country that has prospered in the world precisely when it has been most outward looking, forward looking and international in its perspective.

We want Scottish history to be a firm part of the curriculum, but we do not want that to happen by leaving out the common history that we share with our neighbours. We also want our children to be taught a British history that reflects the importance of Scotland and all our neighbours to the development of the British state and society in recent centuries. We cannot ask that others recognise the importance of Scotland's contribution if we do not, equally, acknowledge the importance of the British, the European and the global context in which Scotland has flourished.

History should not be taught as if the human experience can be divided into national silos, whether they be Scottish, British or even Argentinian. The Scottish history that is taught in our schools must be as relevant to those whose forebears lived in Pakistan or in Poland, in Donegal or in Durham, as it is to those who can trace their Scottish ancestry back through many generations.

The way in which our schools teach Scottish history must reflect the history of regions such as the Highlands and Islands, the north-east and the south-west, which have different historical experiences from the core areas of the medieval Scottish kingdom.

One of the past limitations on the appeal of Scottish history to our young people was the approach that a generation ago saw too many Scottish history books end in 1707 or 1746. If the teaching of history is partly of value because of the light that it sheds on the present and future, then the more recent the history, the clearer its relevance will be to those who learn it.

I welcome the recognition of the importance of history in general and of Scottish history in particular. I emphasise that those who teach history should first understand it and, therefore, the importance of advanced study for those who teach. The Labour amendment is right to emphasise the importance of basic learning skills for students of history. Those basic learning skills give access to the whole curriculum and the range of additional and critical skills that the study of history can bring.

The history that our young people are taught must be balanced, must reflect the whole of our historical experience, and must put Scotland's history in its widest context. If it does that, it will add to the skills and knowledge of future generations.

Photo of Christopher Harvie Christopher Harvie Scottish National Party 3:50, 30 January 2008

The mark of the patriotic citizen is often less pride in his or her country than shame when it betrays itself. Let us think of Robert Burns's "parcel of rogues", James Joyce's "centre of paralysis", or Hugh MacDiarmid's splendid phrase that to stay in Scotland meant

"being trampled to death by geese".

When we remember our history, there is a negative mood to it. As my old friend Iain Crichton Smith wrote, it is like coming back

"from a warm room

to an old castle

hissing with ghosts."

That element of Scottish history is not value free or terribly classroom friendly. Yes, there is a girn element in it, but try to extract a Scottish history from a British account and what do we get? Let us consider Simon Schama's preposterous BBC "A History of Britain" and the six references to Scotland in the final volume.

History cannot teach lessons, but it can recreate a political landscape and show where changes occurred and what long-term effects were caused. It starts and ends local. I learned that at Kelso high school, where my fine teachers of history and geography were both Scots and English, but they lived in the shadow of the ballads and of David Hume.

I want to mention this David Hume quotation because it is so marvellous. When he gave up writing history in the middle of the 18th century, he said that he had given up because he was

"too old, too fat, too lazy and too rich".

I wish that I could say the last few words, but I cannot.

Scottish history in its various episodes has also been British, European and world history. That does not make it as much unionist as ambiguous, which I will show by exploring one particular episode. It is highly relevant today, and it is perhaps our country's finest hour. I phrase this as an exam question. Subtract the Clyde munitions district from world war one and Germany would have won: discuss.

The Germans had not expected that a peaceable industrial region would convert itself in a matter of months into the biggest arsenal in the world. The district supplied the western front with tanks, artillery, aircraft and, above all, high-explosive shell. It made good the losses inflicted on the merchant marine by the U-boat warfare.

The adaptation was crucial but it ruined the Scottish economy. It was like the peasant in the Chekhov story who for a bet raises a huge load on to a cart, then falls exhausted and never rises again. By 1922, Scotland had gone from "workshop of the world" to "that distressed region". It was a shattering reversal and—this is the contemporary relevance—one from which the small manufacturing level of our economy never recovered. We saved ourselves in the big industries by nestling in the fur of the great beasts: the railways, which became a British entrepreneurial project in 1923; the banks; the British state; and ICI—the classic example of the large British company, which was sold about six months ago to the Dutch. Our entrepreneurialism was maimed. In the 1970s, we did something similar with North Sea oil—astonishing technical feats were followed, again, by exhaustion.

Now, with those experiences, which are accessible only through our history, we face having to adapt to an amazing third chance: the renewables revolution—God be praised. That is crucial. This time, we cannot afford to get things wrong.

We must not exaggerate Scotland's position and our historical landscape but keep them in proportion—Scotland in proportion to the infinite, as MacDiarmid once put it. We must get things right in schools, not by exaggerating the importance of our country's experience, but by equipping people to analyse hoo we got from there to here, as MacDiarmid said.

As the great German liberal Gustav Stresemann said—to be echoed by that fine English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams—to be an internationalist, one must first be a nationalist. That is not to produce any particular programme but the line of the disinterested patriot.

I return to a quote from a poet who was also an economist—Alexander Gray. It moved me in Germany and it moves me today. It is:

"This is my country,

The land that begat me.

These windy spaces

Are surely my own.

And those who toil here

In the sweat of their faces

Are flesh of my flesh,

And bone of my bone."

That man was a liberal and not a nationalist, but the attachment to a place is not dishonourable and I hope that I will die still believing in it.

Photo of John Farquhar Munro John Farquhar Munro Liberal Democrat 3:56, 30 January 2008

The debate is becoming more interesting as it goes along. What do we mean when we suggest that our history should be taught in our schools? What history are we talking about? Is it the history of Scotland or the international history in which the Scottish nation has been involved? Do we start here and now? Do we go back to the previous century, the 19 th century, or even further, to the 18 th century and before that? If we are to start teaching history seriously in schools, there will be quite a debate about where the starting point should be. Where do we propose to start and end the journey through our history, of which there is much to relate to our young people?

I am sure that, like me, many members easily remember their school days, when history lessons consisted of a list of dates that we had to memorise without having any great explanation of the event that the date recorded. We all remember the dates of the battle of Hastings and the battle of Sheriffmuir. We had to know the date, but we did not need to know anything about the event.

As a few members have said, when we teach our history, we must be careful not to create division and dissent among our colleagues and with other countries. That is a great problem. Members will have heard this week about commemorations of the Holocaust. When young people in the street were asked about the Holocaust, they did not know what it was. That is a great shame. I am sure that our young people would be glad to know about other important events, if they had the opportunity to learn about them.

We must be careful that whatever structures we put in place to teach history are monitored. It is most important to teach our own history, by which I mean history that is unadulterated by the politically correct. We do not want political interference in the curriculum. To avoid conflict, what is taught should be straightforward and should have no political slant. That said, I would like the syllabus to concentrate on the positive aspects of our history—not so much on the battles and dates as on the achievements of the Scottish people, to give students a positive, hopeful view of the future and to let them know of the great achievements of the past. Although it is important for the young to learn about our kings and the Highland clearances, if I were to go around the Highlands today, speaking to primary school pupils about Patrick Sellar, would they know who I was talking about? No, I do not think that they would. They might think that he was an itinerant Irishman who came to the Highlands to earn a corn o' bread; they would not know that Patrick Sellar was the anathema of all estate managers.

It would be far better to focus on how Scots of the enlightened period have changed the world. Does the young gentleman who comes to school on his 21-speed bicycle, which he parks in the playground, realise that he is due that privilege because of another great Scotsman, Kirkpatrick Macmillan, who invented the bicycle? No, he does not, but he is glad to have his bike. He is also glad to have the surface on which his bike travels, but does he know that that surface was created by a Mr MacAdam from Dumfries—hence the word tarmacadam?

If I said to pupils, "James Watt", they would think that I was talking about a professional boxer from the Glasgow area; they would never realise that it was the famous James Watt of the steam engine fame. James Clerk Maxwell discovered electromagnetism, but pupils do not hear a word about him at school. And what about John Logie Baird, who gave us the miracle of television? I wonder how many kids in primary school know that the television was invented in Scotland, or that Alexander Fleming gave us the great drug penicillin, which has been of such benefit to mankind the world over. It all started here in Scotland. When they are running around, sending text messages on mobile phones, do they know that the forerunner of their telephone was created by Alexander Graham Bell, another great Scotsman? There was also Adam Smith, the father of modern economics. We have all those things to tell young people in our schools and I am sure that they would be delighted to hear about them. We must do a lot more to encourage awareness of those people.

As a nation, we have a lot to be proud of, and it is far better for us to concentrate on the positive, world-changing Scots in history. We should not navel gaze into the history of battles and oppression. I very much hope that the new Scottish history syllabus contains some, if not all, of what I have mentioned. I commend the Scottish Government for choosing to introduce Scottish history into the modern school curriculum.

Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party 4:03, 30 January 2008

Studying history should not be about staring aimlessly into the past, reliving the glories or lamenting the honourable defeats. It is as much about understanding where we have come from, making sense of where we are now and, more important, helping us to prepare for the future with confidence.

When I was a schoolboy in Kilmarnock in the 1970s, the prospect of facing—in some cases, memorising—the next 10 pages on the Tudors came a close second to the attraction of a visit to the dentist to have a tooth pulled. It was dull, uninspiring and painful, and it had no relevance. It felt like a memory exercise to record and regurgitate facts, figures and dates and I quickly abandoned it as an academic interest. I knew little or nothing about my country and the contribution that local people had made to our development over the centuries.

If someone had told me about the strong connections that Bruce and Wallace have to my part of Ayrshire and the huge part that they played in shaping Scotland; or that the Kilmarnock radicals such as John Kennedy, Thomas Baird and Alexander McLaren had the audacity to demand parliamentary reform in the 1820s and were imprisoned for their efforts; or that local men such as Andrew Barclay, John Fulton and Alexander Fleming made a significant contribution to engineering, science and medicine that benefited the world; perhaps then I would have been a worthy scholar like my friend and colleague Professor Harvie. Alas, history fell from my radar and I focused on science and technology, which had meaning and relevance and gave me the prospect of a job. It was an easy choice to make at the time.

Thankfully, we have travelled a long way since then. An examination of history teaching and its place in the modern context of social studies within the curriculum for excellence shows an approach that is light years away from that taken in my schooldays. LTS's draft outcomes and experiences paper shows clearly the intention to allow teachers to

"'raise the bar', permitting greater depth and challenging young people to be ambitious in their learning".

For the first time, our children can learn about their communities and Scotland's development as a nation, and can begin to see the world around them from a Scottish perspective. That is a crucial change in the curriculum for excellence framework.

The framework specifies clear outcomes relating to people, past events, and societies, and that young people should be expected to develop a "wider sense" of their

"heritage and identity as a British, European or global citizen", which rather neatly incorporates the Conservative amendment and should reassure us all that there can be no political interference, as mentioned in the Liberal Democrat amendment.

The approach that is taken in the curriculum for excellence is consistent, whether it is applied to the social sciences or to literacy and numeracy. It proposes clarity in teaching, experiences that will enhance learning and meaningful outcomes for the children. The concerns and issues that are expressed in all three of the amendments are dealt with in the curriculum for excellence framework.

Some of the material that is available to enrich the learning and teaching of history is quite incredible and is a testament to the great work that has been achieved and is continuing in Scotland. The power of technology to offer rich new learning environments to our youngsters is a huge benefit in helping us to deliver the outcomes of the curriculum for excellence. It would be remiss of me not to mention some of the projects and organisations that bring those ideas to life. The future museum project, involving the Ayrshire councils and Dumfries and Galloway Council is a fantastic online resource. It is full of materials that help youngsters to appreciate their local heritage, which might have been ignored for many years.

LTS has developed and produced a wonderful variety of material to support learning and teaching and it currently offers a wide range of Scottish history titles that youngsters and adults can enjoy online. So, too, do many other organisations, such as the Scottish cultural resources access network and the Scottish interactive technology centre. If I may, I will pay tribute to an old friend, Tony van der Kuyl, who died last week. He was the director of SITC, and larger than life. The rich learning experience that many of our children enjoy is down to the vision and dedication of people like Tony van der Kuyl. We shall be forever in his debt.

Scotland has nothing to fear and everything to gain from placing its own history at the heart of the curriculum. It is a move that has been born of a new and developing confidence that recognises the past, establishes a new context for Scotland in the present and offers our young people a glimpse of what the future might hold. The framework of the curriculum for excellence allows us to explore all those possibilities in a mature and critical fashion. The application of technology can unleash the potential of exciting new ways of learning and teaching.

Studying Scottish history today is a far cry from a visit to the dentist. Let us embrace the approach and support the Government's motion.

Photo of Mary Mulligan Mary Mulligan Labour 4:09, 30 January 2008

As always, I am happy to be taking part in an education debate. Last week, some members raised concerns about how few health debates there have been since last May's election. The same cannot be said of education; we seem to have at least one education debate a week and I am pleased about that. I am pleased that our SNP Government agrees with Labour that education should be a top priority because of the benefits and opportunities that it affords children, young people and, yes, older learners and because of the role that it plays in Scotland's economy.

I fully support what the motion refers to as

"the recent decision by the Scottish Qualifications Authority to include questions on Scottish history as a compulsory component of the Higher History examination."

The motion also welcomes

"the publication of the draft social studies outcomes and experiences by Learning and Teaching Scotland".

As Ken Macintosh said, the review was initiated while my colleague Peter Peacock was Minister for Education and Young People. I, too, recall the over-reaction to that review from certain SNP members, including the now Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, who came up with the very catchy phrase that the Executive was trying to "make history history". That was not true then and I hope that the cabinet secretary accepts that it is not true now.

It is right that consideration is given to how social studies were and are taught. Although the study of history is vital to children and young people's understanding of who they are and why Scotland developed in the way that it did, consideration also needs to be given to how such subjects are taught to ensure that they are relevant. The fact that that could be said of any subject does not make it any less applicable to history. I wonder whether I am alone in noticing that fewer young people now choose history as an option. That might say something about the way in which history is taught and about young people's views of its relevance, or it might be simply a practical issue about how schools group the subjects that students can choose.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

Does the member accept that, like me, young people might have given up history precisely because it is not relevant to their situation or their country? If they are required to learn about William the Conqueror for the umpteenth time, they really will be put off history.

Photo of Mary Mulligan Mary Mulligan Labour

I agree that history needs to be relevant, but there is also a practical element to the issue. I know that my own children chose modern studies because, much though they wanted to study history, it was not a timetable option. The practical issues also need to be addressed.

My own experience of being taught Scottish history was of being taught about the Stuart monarchy. That was all. Although that was perhaps of interest to someone who went on to become the MSP for Linlithgow—the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots—it was clearly not a wide-ranging and comprehensive view. I wish that I had learned about Scotland's industrial history and the great scientists, engineers and inventors to whom John Farquhar Munro referred, who came from Scotland and had such an impact worldwide. As a woman, I would have been interested in learning about James Young Simpson, who was born in 1811 in Bathgate and went on to discover the anaesthetic properties of chloroform—for which many women who have experienced childbirth are very grateful.

Having mentioned scientists, I will make my one criticism of today's debate, which is that it might have been more productive if the motion had been broader, as the minister's opening speech was. For example, we need to consider how we encourage more students to study sciences and languages. We know that the study of scientific disciplines in school is a prerequisite for a degree in science, engineering or medicine, all of which are essential for the economy and our social welfare. Beyond that, scientific knowledge is important not only for those who want to pursue such careers, but for all of us, so that we can make informed personal decisions on issues such as climate change or energy policy.

I support the amendment in the name of my Labour colleague Rhona Brankin. It makes eminent sense to acknowledge that, if school pupils do not have basic literacy and numeracy skills, there will be no way that they can benefit from history or any other subject. Just last Friday, I met young people from Burnhouse School in Whitburn in my constituency—I know that the cabinet secretary has also visited the school—who have made it to high school without the basic numeracy and literacy skills that they need. There may be many reasons for that, but it is up to us to find solutions. Our first priority should be to tackle those reasons and to give all our children basic skills.

I will also support the Conservative amendment. History should be wide ranging, and young people should feel able, when studying it, to challenge the record of the past that is given to them, recognising that the individuals, the time and the place concerned all have an impact on what is recounted.

I will also support the Liberal Democrat amendment—even though Liberal Democrat members may not do so, given that they are no longer in the chamber. [Interruption.] I apologise to Mr Purvis, who is on his feet at the back. I cannot imagine whom Mr O'Donnell may have had in mind when he decided to lodge his amendment, but it is in the Business Bulletin and I am happy to support it.

This has been a relatively consensual debate, as I expected. The SNP Government may have missed an opportunity to have a more wide-ranging debate on the curriculum. However, I suspect that, given the number of education debates that we have had, we will return to the issue at some stage. I am happy to support the motion and the amendments.

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party 4:16, 30 January 2008

I welcome the opportunity to support the Government's motion and will do so. My initial instinct was to support the amendments, but some of the interpretation and ill-informed innuendo from Ken Gibson, in particular—[ Laughter. ] I meant to say Ken Macintosh. I apologise to Ken Gibson for associating him with Ken Macintosh's comments, which were not fitting in this chamber. I hope that the member who winds up for Labour will indicate what the Labour Party thinks about those comments.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

Will Mr Paterson identify some of the comments to which he took exception?

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party

If you are not big enough to understand what you were saying, I will not do your research for you. Frankly, that shows the level to which you have dropped.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Please do not address the member in the second person.

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party

I am sorry, Presiding Officer. Will you tell the member to behave himself?

This debate is not just about teaching Scottish history for its own sake, but about our children understanding their heritage and why Scotland is where it is today. I will use my speech to highlight some of the areas of Scottish life that our children need to understand and to relate those to topics in Scottish history about which our children should be taught.

Why are there so many whys in Scottish history? Why did a Scot establish the American navy to fight the British? Why were Scots involved in writing the American declaration of independence?

Why did so many Scots, especially at leadership level, fight on the American side in the American war of independence? Why were Scots involved in writing the American constitution and bill of rights? Why is the American Congress based on and almost identical in its layout and procedures to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland? Why were so many men who were involved at the siege of the Alamo Gaelic speakers, some wearing tartan and playing the bagpipes? Why did so many Scots, especially at leadership level, fight on both sides in the American civil war? Why were so many Scots in America in the first place?

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

Would the member care to share with us why so many Scots died down mines in Scotland that were controlled by Scottish owners?

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party

I will encompass such matters in a broader sense as I develop my point.

Why is Scotland's population only 5 million when it should be nearer 12 million? Why are market towns such as Inveraray in Argyll and Lanark in Lanarkshire not the size of Inverness or Aberdeen? Why are there only four major cities in Scotland? Why is three quarters of Scotland empty of people? Why were vast parts of Scotland ethnically cleansed? Why did the London Government allow and encourage that ethnic cleansing? Why is so much of Scotland owned by so few individuals? Why were Scottish aristocrats almost exclusively educated in England? Why did the state persecute the great social thinker and reformer Thomas Muir? Why were the 1820 martyrs fitted out and murdered by the state? Why are all those incidents connected? Why was I taught some American whys with no attached Scottish perspective? Why were none of the Scottish whys taught?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I wonder whether Mr Paterson listened to the earlier part of the debate, in which Mr Ingram, who is on the SNP's front bench, made an important point. He said that we dwell too much on the gloomy aspects of Scottish history. Does Mr Paterson accept that?

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party

I accept that something is missing from my experience and education when I look around Scotland and realise that I have never been taught why certain things happened.

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party

Not at the moment, thank you.

Why is it impossible for someone to teach history in the United States of America without knowing their national and state history? Why is it possible for someone to teach history in Scotland without knowing a single thing about Scottish history? Why does every other country in the world think that it is good and important to teach its own history?

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party

Why are there so many whys about Scottish history? Why would anybody want to suppress such questions?

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat 4:23, 30 January 2008

I have pleasure in speaking to the amendment in the name of my colleague Hugh O'Donnell.

Mr Paterson gave a list of whys. I suggest that he should study for the standard grade exam in history next year. If he did so, he would find out that the examination covers immigration to and emigration from Scotland from 1880 to the present day. He would study the Highland clearances; changes in employment and working conditions on the land and in the textile factories; changes in social conditions, health and housing in rural and urban areas; reasons for the growth of the Scottish economy; the role of trade unions; and changes in employment and working conditions for women. I suspect that Mr Paterson is not aware that those subjects are all part of the standard grade Scottish history course. Why he is not could be added to his why questions.

I listened to the introductory speech by the Minister for Schools and Skills. The debate has in general been interesting, although there have been one or two omissions. I have thoroughly enjoyed the speeches by Professor Harvie, Willie Coffey, Murdo Fraser, John Farquhar Munro and other members. I understood from the minister that

"The teaching and learning of history in school is well placed to help enable our young people to develop as successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.

The curriculum in Scotland is not based on statutory prescription. It is for schools, in the light of the curriculum framework within which they operate, to determine how best they organise the syllabus for all subjects, including history, in schools."

I hope that that was an accurate paraphrase of the minister's speech. It was also an accurate, verbatim quotation from the written answer that the previous Administration's Minister for Education and Young People gave on 1 March 2006 to question S2W-23059 from Adam Ingram. There is a consensus on the teaching of history. The new Government is not saving history as a course in schools, because it was not under threat. Part of the slight rewriting of history that has been done this afternoon has been a misinterpretation.

It was Winston Churchill who remarked that history would be kind to him because he would write it. The medieval chroniclers in Scotland and historians through the ages have had a special place in what we understand to be our history. Quite a few history graduates have spoken in the debate. As a politics and history graduate, I know how students can be shaped by an inspirational teacher. However, students' views can be influenced too much. History in school should provide us with a knowledge and understanding of events, but it should also whet the appetite of the learner and encourage them to question motives and the versions of history that they are told.

Since I was elected, I have seen some excellent projects in schools in my constituency, where history is delivered by outstanding teachers. We must continue to allow professionals to do their job. As Murdo Fraser and others have said, we have not had a top-down national curriculum approach and, thankfully, political interference has largely been absent from the development of teaching. I disagree with Willie Coffey in that I think that it is possible to have a system that is free from political interference, and we should continually strive to ensure that that is the case.

It is simply not true that the previous Government neglected history as a course or attempted to diminish its status. Unit 1 of standard grade history offers a comprehensive approach to changing life in Scotland and Britain and, within the curriculum of excellence, the essence of citizenship education is about enthusing children and making them confident because of what they can do, not because of where they have come from. That is why I was wary of Rob Gibson's monologue. The BBC's "Who Do You Think You Are?" is a fascinating history programme because the participants often find out that they are not who they thought they were.

No one owns history, even if they try to present one part of it. Last week's question time provided an interesting illustration of that fact, when the Lewis chessmen were discussed. The Minister for Europe, External Affairs and Culture said that the Lewis chessmen should not be in the British Museum because they are Scottish, but should not the Roman artefacts in the national museum of Scotland be in Melrose, the ancient Roman fort of Trimontium?

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

I give way to the member, just to show how painless giving way can be.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

Indeed.

Does Jeremy Purvis agree that it will be necessary for us to adopt a process whereby, through the provision of appropriate means, it will be possible for people to display artefacts from across Scotland and that our idea of museums and national museums will have to change as a result?

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

I would prefer it if the member did not spend too long on museums.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

They are a crucial part of our history, Presiding Officer, but you are right. We should not treat the teaching of history as we treat artefacts—as possessions. However, if Rob Gibson is indicating that the new approach of the new Government is that the objects that we have in our national collections and, indeed, our local government collections should accurately reflect their source, that is an extremely dangerous path to go down, if we do not have a full understanding that collections in Scotland would be open to the same level of scrutiny as those in the British museum or in collections around the world.

Christopher Harvie remarked on the ballads, the historical tradition of which was kept alive by Walter Scott and which, to this day, are taught in Borders schools. Scott kept history alive, especially that of the Highlands, which he made fashionable, but his "Ivanhoe" is a blend of fact and fiction. Too often, we fall into that trap when we interpret our historical facts.

John Farquhar Munro, who told us that Scots invented the modern world, asked what history we should teach. At a hustings during the election campaign, a supporter of another party attacked me for not wanting to restore what she called the ancient border of Scotland. I am a Berwicker, born and brought up in the Borders, and there is no ancient border of Scotland. My home town changed hands 13 times between the two nations before 1482.

I agree with Christopher Harvie that the best start is local history. Local history was taught in an exciting way when I was at school and has remained a passion of mine ever since. If we are to continue to teach history, regardless of the period or the perspective, we should make it exciting. We should make it a passion for young people in our schools. The best thing that we can do with our education system is to have no political interference and to make education exciting.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative 4:30, 30 January 2008

I remember that when I was 14—which was not yesterday—I had a great debate in my mind about whether the social science that I should take in addition to economics should be history or modern studies. A teacher put the matter firmly into focus by telling me, "History educates people; politics usually destroys them." I leave it to members to decide which subject I chose.

The debate has been good. I want to put it on the record that there is no need to convert the Scottish Conservatives to the importance of Scottish history and the subject's inclusion in the Scottish curriculum and SQA examinations. Scottish history's rich diversity and our deep-rooted links with many other parts of the world, to which Dr Macdonald referred, are good reasons to study the subject but, in addition, all people in Scotland should learn Scottish history, because by doing so we become much better equipped to understand ourselves, where we came from and the complexities of our cultural, economic and social heritage.

Tom Devine has written that Scottish history is a subject

"of enormous dynamism and relevance".

Scottish history also provides the necessary insight into many other academic disciplines. Without a good understanding of Scottish history, our understanding of our nation is at best incomplete and at worst insular and sectarian. Jeremy Purvis alluded to that.

Tom Devine has made the valid point that the erosion of Scottish history teaching began with the insistence of some education zealots that there would be a place for history on the curriculum only if it was shared with geography and modern studies. As a result, history was no longer part of the compulsory curriculum beyond the second year. I agree with Tom Devine's analysis, but I add that that approach coincided with a belief on the part of the same zealots that skills were far more important that knowledge. Knowledge, whether it was about dates or anything else, was thought to be boring and irrelevant; skills were much more important, so it was incumbent on all teachers to change their methods. Perhaps there was a need for change, but the pendulum swung far too far. In many cases, children and teachers were left confused by an emphasis on skills that was not always accompanied by the knowledge that is necessary if people are to make best use of their skills.

Conventional wisdom was again challenged by people who thought that history could be taught only in the context of concepts, such as war, industrialisation or revolution. Such an approach is fascinating at university and postgraduate level, but how can we expect children to understand events that are not put into chronological context? Great damage has been done to the teaching of history in our classrooms by the obsession with skills to the detriment of knowledge and by the absence of chronology.

As the minister said, the curriculum for excellence is one of the most exciting things on the education horizon. I do not mean this in a political context—that is surprising for me—but at long last we appear to be taking seriously the need to ensure that what we teach is relevant to the lives of young people, so that they can understand their responsibilities and have the appropriate knowledge to understand who they are and how their nation has been shaped. Scottish history must be part of that process. However, as Kenneth Macintosh and Murdo Fraser said—and, as Duncan Tom said in The Scotsman—it is vital that Scottish history is put firmly in its context. We must never succumb to the trite and inaccurate characteristics of "Braveheart" history.

Scotland has a proud history; we need no contortion, twist or attempt to alter our past. Our pupils deserve to learn Scottish history. Whether they are being taught about Bonnie Prince Charlie or Mary, Queen of Scots, they deserve to be taught by evidence, not myth. Above all, they deserve to have their history well taught and put in the correct perspective.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour 4:35, 30 January 2008

As a history graduate and trained history teacher, I am passionate about the importance of Scottish history to the school curriculum. Indeed, at Aberdeen, I benefited from being taught by Sydney Wood, a terrific Scottish academic historian.

I was somewhat bemused by the minister's remark that the SNP was the only party to support the curriculum for excellence in its manifesto. I can only assume that the minister's civil servants did not write that rather unfortunate line. Of course, like all the rest of us, they know that the previous Government initiated the work on the curriculum for excellence. Let us knock that silly political point scoring on the head straight away.

Like other Labour Party members, I welcome the draft social studies outcomes and the SQA's decision on compulsory history questions. Also, like other members, I fail to understand what the SNP Government has done that is different from the actions that the previous Government initiated. I look forward to the cabinet secretary giving us chapter and verse on that.

Adam Ingram rather gave the game away when he intervened on Kenneth Macintosh. He said that Scottish history should be about the glories of past achievement. Well, there we have it: we can be proud of our country only if our children learn about the glories of past achievement. As a history teacher, I am filled with dismay by that. Of course, our children need to learn about the glories of past achievement, but they also need to learn about Scotland's less than glorious role in the slave trade. Surely they also need to find out about the appalling conditions that women and children suffered down our mines. I agree that Scottish manufacturing industry led the world, but social historians and political writers have taught us about the cost in human lives of rapid industrial development. I hope that we are a more compassionate society as a result of what we have learned about the human cost of change in the past.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Does the member agree that it is important that young people should learn about history in the context of their local community? In her constituency, the mining of coal by the monks of Newbattle abbey in the 13 th century offers an illustrative way of bringing to life the cost that the people of Midlothian have borne over many years. The social and industrial history of Scotland is brought to life if it is related to the local context and community in which people live.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

It would be brought even more to life if the children were to visit the Scottish mining museum. I hope that Linda Fabiani will give the museum the funding that it needs.

Several members referred to the need to teach skills in the history curriculum. Of course, that is vital. History is an integral part of the curriculum. The fundamental truth is that we should inculcate in our pupils a love of history. Pupils have to love history and enjoy it. Primary school pupils should be able to learn history from talking to their grandparents or pretending to be a history detective. A genuine love of history has to be inculcated in our pupils at primary school. They need to learn how to use primary and secondary source materials and make objective judgments about our past. The also need to discover how it contributes to our present and what they can learn from it.

I turn to Labour's amendment on the importance of literacy and numeracy. The Presiding Officers had some difficulties in determining whether the amendment was relevant. If we are to teach research skills and the use of primary source material, literacy and numeracy problems present a real barrier to learning. Members do not need to take my word for that, as it is also the word of the many history teachers I have worked alongside who undertook curriculum development. Like other teachers, history teachers say that they are expected to differentiate their teaching according to their pupils' capacity for understanding and reading comprehension age. It is a genuine challenge for history teachers and it is of fundamental relevance to the teaching of history.

The Government simply refuses to show any leadership. Far too many pupils are unable to access the curriculum because of literacy and numeracy problems. The Government has a responsibility to come to Parliament with a plan to eradicate illiteracy and innumeracy. Our pupils, parents and teachers deserve no less.

Alasdair Allan's intervention implied that a nationalist take on history is preferable to a unionist one. Most of us believe that neither is acceptable.

Rob Gibson claimed that Scottish history was abandoned because of the introduction of social studies, and Fiona Hyslop has criticised that too. Two years ago, she said:

"The minister may want to reflect that he has yet to confirm that he believes that history should be taught as a discrete subject in S1 and S2."—[Official Report, 1 December 2005; c 21305.]

Will she today clarify whether she intends to make any such changes to the S1 and S2 curriculum? Will she introduce Scottish history as a discrete subject in S1 and S2, which she called for in 2005, or is this just another example of the SNP saying one thing when in opposition but then, when in government, suddenly changing its position? The cabinet secretary's SNP members need to know. Perhaps she will enlighten them.

John Farquhar Munro gave us—how can I describe it?—a classical rendition of the great man school of history. I think that he and I should have a wee chat later about some of the great women in Scottish history. Seriously though, history is about much more than just famous Scots, important though they are.

Why, tell me why, does Gil Paterson know so little about the Scottish history curriculum?

Labour supports the Government motion and we are happy to support both the Conservative and the Liberal Democrat amendments. I urge members to support our amendment. It is aimed at opening up the subject of history to all our young people in Scotland. The subject is too important not to be accessible by all.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Cabinet secretary, we have to finish by about 3 minutes to 5, but that is clearly up to you.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party 4:42, 30 January 2008

Thank you, Presiding Officer. This has been a very interesting debate. I counted about eight members who had studied history—they shared their knowledge with us—and we heard one professor. I very much enjoyed listening to all the speeches from all sides of the chamber. The contributions from opposition benches by Lewis Macdonald, John Farquhar Munro and Elizabeth Smith were all fitting; they were thought-provoking and tested our knowledge and they made us consider some of the key questions that we have to address in the education system.

Maureen Watt highlighted in her opening remarks the role that the curriculum for excellence can and will play in enabling Scotland's teaching profession to teach our young people in a more exciting, engaging and relevant manner. Jeremy Purvis made a similar plea.

Scotland already has a great deal of excellent teaching—I see examples of it regularly when I visit schools around the country—and the OECD was at pains to stress the point when we met it in December. Inspirational teaching can have a lasting and profound effect on children. With the roll-out of the draft curriculum outcomes, the challenge to teachers to own, embrace and drive forward the curriculum themselves is clear. It will also be appropriate to discuss the draft social studies outcomes when they come out. As the OECD emphasised, curriculum reform has to come from schools—not from politicians, not from officials and not from education theorists. Teachers are best placed to meet the needs of individual learners. We need exciting, engaging and relevant teaching from every teacher in every pre-school centre, school and college. In pursuing that aim, we will be creating the institutions that nurture, foster and give life to the talents and ambitions of all our young people.

We have been asked about the development of the curriculum and about what will be prescribed and what can be decided by teachers. High quality materials will be essential if we are to ensure that teachers are able to make such decisions. The development of website application and the glow project will offer a fantastic opportunity for teachers to choose their materials.

Members including Rhona Brankin asked—reflecting, I suspect, an unfortunate Liberal Democrat amendment—about the extent to which the Government prescribes the content of the curriculum. It is acknowledged throughout Parliament that Government should prescribe not the content, but what Scotland's children are entitled to experience up to certain levels. I hope that Parliament returns to that issue, because the Government will have a strong view of what a Scottish general education should be, without being prescriptive or having too narrow a perspective.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

I hope that the minister will come to the specific question I asked her about history as a discrete subject in S1 and S2.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I will come back to that point.

The activity of organisations such as the Scottish Association of Teachers of History in lobbying and petitioning Parliament over the past few years on the important role that the teaching of history can play in Scottish education in the 21st century is testament to a profession that is aware of and energised by that challenge. We want to ensure that Scottish history is a taught in our schools, but it is not just history teachers who can teach it. Many members have spoken about other subjects, such as geography and science. In addition to history as a core subject, the facts that our young people need to know can be taught by other teachers as well.

I take this opportunity to mention the literature forum for Scotland, which lodged a petition with Parliament on St Andrew's day in 2005, emphasising the significant role that the teaching of Scottish history, literature and languages can have on education in Scotland. History fulfils a crucial role in illuminating the past and the present. By explaining the causes and effects of changes in the past, it contributes to a sense of perspective that is essential to understanding the present.

A successful Scotland will need a population of young people who have hope, faith, vision and a fundamental belief in themselves. The teaching of history helps to create that individual self-belief and a sense of belonging to a society that has a past—a society that has been constantly changing over time. As Robin Harper said, self-belief and confidence are based on opportunity and taking chances. Rob Gibson quoted Professor Duncan Rice on the same issue. In Scotland, many people do not believe that they can realise their talents, so we must urgently tackle that failure of aspiration if we are to fulfil our ambitions. The curriculum for excellence will help us to tackle that by building people's capacity, ability and belief that they can achieve.

We talk a good deal these days about the need for a country of creative and confident Scots. How can we expect people to enjoy a sense of self and self-esteem unless their national consciousness is informed by a thorough understanding of their country's experience? How can someone know something, let alone understand it or gain wisdom from an understanding of it, if they are not taught it? Professor Harvie posed an interesting challenge: How can Scotland in the modern world understand the renewable energy revolution without learning from the Scottish industrial revolution?

The teaching of Scottish history does not seek to impose a value system on pupils, but to allow them to examine how past values influence peoples' actions and how many of those values continue to influence the present. It is tremendously important that our young people understand what has happened in Scotland's past, and when it happened. It is possible to have a clear perspective on the past only if one's understanding of chronology is sound. I am particularly taken by Professor Tom Devine's thinking on the teaching of Scottish history in chronological order—the Scottish spine. It will be important and informative to explore that further in the pursuit of good learning and teaching, and of the materials that will support the outcomes. I spoke to Professor Devine yesterday and he supports my position on the role of Scottish history in the curriculum. We also have the support of other academics.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

Will the education secretary expand on that point? It goes to the heart of the concerns that I feel—and which others may feel—about the SNP's perspective. No one would disagree with ideas about familiarity with the Scottish experience, for example that knowing about Scottish chemists can make the chemistry curriculum more accessible and more alive, but surely it is important to study chemistry itself and not to study the fact that a Scottish chemist made a difference. Which is more important, the fact that one studies chemistry, or the fact that one studies Scottish chemistry?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

In his excellent speech, Willie Coffey made the point that he might have been more enthused about some subjects had he understood the local context. However, the point that I was making was about the importance of chronology, order and reference points in Scottish history to a sense of place and belonging.

It is also clear that an understanding of the history of one's place builds a sense of belonging and community. That resource is everywhere—in cities, in towns, in the countryside and on our islands. We have only to look around us today to see it: this Parliament building has, on one side, a park that is rich in prehistoric and medieval farming settlements and forts and, on the other, the street of the medieval burgh of Canongate and the royal palace that was at the heart of the religious strife of the 16th and 17th centuries.

By giving people a clearer understanding of who they are, we can address some of Scotland's current social ills. For example, sectarianism can be tackled adequately only with a proper understanding of its provenance as well as its current ill effects. There is enormous social value to be accrued from teaching real history instead of mythology, and of promoting democratic and inclusive agendas. Scotland has always been made up of a rich and varied mix of people. That is where I challenge Lewis Macdonald and John Farquhar Munro, who asked where Scotland's history starts. It does not start with the Romans; there is a pre-Celtic and Celtic component that must be analysed.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

My reference was to written history of events in Scotland written in Scotland. I recommend that she read Tacitus's account of Agricola's conquest of Scotland.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

This is a debate about Scottish history; I ask Lewis Macdonald not to get me started on Latin or we might have a lot to debate.

Oral history and the female line that has generated it are interesting. The modern feminists of our country might want to learn from that oral history and young women might want to learn about the prominence of women in Scotland's history in many centuries gone by.

We have had Romans, Anglo-Saxons, the Norse, Irish, Picts, English, Normans, Italians, Jews, Ukrainians and Poles in Scotland. History also teaches us that Scots have been migrants themselves. Indeed, there were so many Scots in Gdansk in the 17th century that there was an area there named Little Scotland.

The education of young people in this country would be incomplete without our ensuring that they have an understanding and appreciation of Scotland's past alongside and within the wider British, European and world contexts—which is where the Conservative amendment is coming from. The teaching of history can provide insight into the key events and personalities that have shaped our nation. Moreover, many Scots have made significant contributions to the development of countries in all four corners of the world.

Members have asked about what the Government has brought to that. We see it clearly in the concept that, as part of the science outcomes, young people should understand what has happened in the past and understand our contribution to science to inspire them about what they can be in the future. We also look forward to the literacy outcomes, in which the Scots language should be pre-eminent.

I echo Maureen Watt's commendation of the recent decision to include a compulsory Scottish element in the higher history examination. That change will undoubtedly contribute to fulfilling the ambitions that I articulated earlier.

I say to Rhona Brankin that, yes, literacy and numeracy are important, but the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats had 10 years in government to tackle some of the literacy and numeracy problems in Scotland. This Government is determined to tackle them because we want to equip our young people with the skills to understand their history.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

I am sure that the cabinet secretary does not need to tackle anything that the previous Administration did on that. If she wishes to continue on that line, there will be overall support for her. However, one of the concerns that was expressed during the consultation on the review of higher history was:

"Could we be accused of altering the syllabus to reflect the 'flavour of the month'?"

That quotation is from a teacher. As we develop our education system's approach to history, we must avoid simply teaching in the topical fashion.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

There must be coherence, continuity and national understanding, which is why we emphasise the need to ensure that teachers have an understanding of the context of Scottish history. The materials that will be produced to support the curriculum reform are essential to that, but we must also have the flexibility to make the subject exciting. That is where local references are critical; they bring history alive to young people. That is the context that many members have spoken about and which is behind many of the arguments that have been made.

The development of the curriculum for excellence offers professionals an opportunity to take stock of why they teach what they teach. I remind members that we are discussing draft outcomes, which the debate will finalise.

There is an opportunity to improve pupils' understanding of Scotland and its relationship with other countries. There is also an opportunity for professionals to consider the aspirational and enterprising aspects of the people of Scotland, be that in a local, national or international context. That is why the Government is wholly committed to ambitious curriculum reform, and it is why we welcome the publication of the draft social studies outcomes and the inclusion of questions on Scottish history as a compulsory component of the higher history examination.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

I do not disagree with any of that, but could the cabinet secretary be a bit more precise about the timescale? When does she envisage the new proposals being put into operation?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I am tackling the speed of roll-out now. The appetite of schools themselves to become pilots for some of the outcomes that have already been delivered is striking; all of them will be out by early summer, so progress will be fairly rapid. I hope that Parliament and the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee will return to the matter in the weeks and months to come.

What other European country would even have to consider the importance of teaching its own history? [Interruption.]

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Order. There are too many conversations going on.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

That indicates where we have been and, perhaps, where we need to go to seek new ways to give our children an understanding of their own country. The Government is determined that all children will be able to learn about their Scottish history, heritage and culture. We owe it to them, and they deserve to know their own country and where it has been in the past in order that they become the people who will fire future Scottish success and a Scotland of possibilities in the wider world.

The story of Scotland and the history of Scotland need to be told and the Government is delighted to play its part in that. We welcome the opportunity to debate the subject today.