Education (Scottish History)

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:35 pm on 25 November 2009.

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Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None 2:35, 25 November 2009

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-5266, in the name of Fiona Hyslop, on learning about Scotland and its history.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party 3:02, 25 November 2009

As we approach St Andrew's day, the Government believes that the time is right to recognise the importance of learning about Scotland's history. Today also provides a welcome opportunity to celebrate the contribution of our children and young people to a successful year of homecoming. Over the past 10 months, the homecoming has provided a focal point for a range of activities. As well as encouraging people who have Scottish heritage and those who have an interest in Scotland to come home and visit, the homecoming has inspired thousands of children and young people to reflect on our nation, on its history, heritage and culture and on its place in the globalised world of the 21 st century.

More than 270 schools and nurseries have highlighted their activities on the homecoming map and, in June, Iochdar primary school in South Uist was the winner of the homecoming award at the Scottish education awards. Through the homecoming, Scotland's young people have been reclaiming our history—a story of immense achievement in industry, medicine, science, law, world exploration and literature on a scale that belies the size of our population. That learning about Scotland's history, heritage, culture and place in the world is a key part of the legacy of the homecoming.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

From whom have those young people reclaimed their history? I thought that such education had been going on in schools for a long time.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

This is an opportunity for young people to explore their history and to learn about aspects of it of which they were not aware. I will go on to explain why we have, through the online resource, ensured that resources about parts of Scotland's history that have not been known to our young people have been made available.

It is not my job as the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning—nor, indeed, is it the job of any member of the Government—to dictate the content of the curriculum. I agree that there should not be political interference; the attack on teachers' professional integrity in the Conservatives' amendment is, therefore, regrettable. It is my job, however, to show leadership and to provide a framework within which our education system flourishes and further improves. The curriculum for excellence is such a framework.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I am rather confused by what the cabinet secretary has said. I have read our amendment carefully and can see no attack on teachers in it. What I can see, potentially, is an attack on politicians for seeking to politicise Scottish history.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

The Conservatives should perhaps be more explicit, rather than talking about things that are potentially the case. The way I read the amendment, the Conservatives are questioning the abilities of teachers. We trust Scotland's teachers to ensure that history is taught in a way that reflects their professionalism and understanding, and is not interfered with by politicians of any colour.

Although today's debate is about learning about Scotland's history, it is clear from some of the amendments that members want to consider a wider agenda around the curriculum for excellence. There was a considerable amount of media coverage at the end of last week following comments from Carole Ford—the now-retired president of School Leaders Scotland—about details of qualifications for 2013-14, which have yet to be determined, and on which SLS will be fully consulted.

There have been misconceptions around assessment and qualifications. It is not the case that the views of SLS and the other headteacher associations have not been taken into account. I am proud of the unparalleled involvement of the education profession in our work; indeed, SLS was a member of the curriculum for excellence management board, which made recommendations on national qualifications to me, which I accepted. SLS will continue to be involved in discussions and decision making on assessment and qualifications, in particular through the management board and the qualifications governing group. After hearing my speech to the headteachers conference last Friday, Carole Ford stated publicly that she was reassured. School Leaders Scotland also supports our approach to learning about Scotland's history in the context of a global perspective.

Professional engagement has been vital: we established the history in curriculum for excellence group, which brought together eminent professionals in the teaching of history to address some of the concerns that had been raised by teachers in respect of history in the curriculum. We engaged with educators not only to identify why the teaching of Scottish history has been neglected, but to look at ways in which that neglect could be rectified. One of the themes that were considered by the group was the concept of a Scottish spine that would include the key events and eras in Scottish history. In response to that, Learning and Teaching Scotland produced a Scottish dimension planning tool for history that is consistent with the principles of the curriculum for excellence.

The Scottish Association of Teachers of History has played an important role over a number years and has provided us with invaluable input and support, including help with development of the Scotland's history online resource, which it warmly welcomed.

The history in curriculum for excellence group will meet again early in the new year. I will be delighted to update Parliament on the work of the group.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

The cabinet secretary mentioned the Scottish Association of Teachers of History, which is an excellent group. I understand that its last newsletter featured complaints by a number of principal teachers of history across Scotland who feel that the subject is being continually squeezed. How will the curriculum for excellence reverse that trend?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

That is exactly why the history in curriculum for excellence group is considering ways in which we can ensure that we create the time and space that will ensure that the teaching of history—not only the resources that we are talking about today—can be developed.

The remit of the history in curriculum for excellence group focuses on pedagogical issues and will include consideration of continuous professional development and the transition from primary to secondary school, as well as proposals for new topics on the history resource.

I was delighted to launch Scotland's history—a world-leading online resource—last month. The quality and quantity of material is outstanding. Professor Tom Devine described it as

"potentially taking Scotland from the end of the queue in terms of teaching national history to the top."

At launch, the resource covers more than 200 topics from prehistory to the 21st century, including fascinating topics that are not usually taught in schools, such as the Caledonians and Picts and the history of Gaeldom. It also features resources that were commissioned specially for the year of homecoming on subjects such as the Scottish enlightenment and Scots and Australia. There are links to more than 1,000 resources and interactive supporting materials to help to enrich our young people's critical skills of analysis and interpretation through the study of Scotland's history.

It is important that Learning and Teaching Scotland has marshalled and mobilised the resources of Scotland. Indeed, all the members of the heritage education forum Scotland have made their resources, image archives, staff time and experience freely available, which has made a huge difference to the resource.

I have encouraged all members to explore the Scotland's history resource, which is accessible at as well as through the LTS site. I am pleased to report that it received 21,946 visits and well over 100,000 page views in its first four weeks online.

The range of resources fills important gaps in areas where inspection evidence from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education shows that aspects of Scottish history have been underrepresented in school teaching, such as the making of the kingdom, the late medieval period and the enlightenment. It is important that, with the 450th anniversary of the reformation next year, that aspect of Scottish history is dealt with by resource material as well.

While at the launch, I had the pleasure of meeting pupils from several schools, who share an interest in Scottish history. Pupils from Queensferry primary school, in particular, displayed a keen interest in enhancing their knowledge through the resources. They and the rest of the young people can look forward to maximising the potential of the resource by adding examples of their local history projects to it via glow, which is the Scottish schools intranet system. We in Scotland can be proud of glow, which is the world's first national education platform. It provides a powerful set of integrated online tools and resources. Those are driving motivation and engagement in Scottish education and are leading teachers, pupils and parents into a rich and innovative learning process that enables them to explore, learn, create, share and showcase. Teachers and learners alike are already using glow to share best practice, and to collaborate to enhance their experiences by cultivating and sharing their interest in the rich history of Scotland. Those 21st century skills and behaviours underpin the curriculum for excellence, and they showcase Scotland to the world as an evolving, embracing and innovative nation.

We must ensure that our young people have the opportunity to learn about Scotland's history throughout the senior phase of their education, which is why we have ensured that the higher history course will from next year contain a mandatory Scottish unit. The unit will give pupils the opportunity to learn about many important points in Scotland's history, including the age of the reformation and the impact of the migration of Scots in the 19th and 20th centuries, which will embed the legacy for learning from homecoming. I have been impressed with the passion and dedication of all those who have been involved in making that positive change to the qualification. As well as the Scotland's history online resource, there are dedicated resources from Learning and Teaching Scotland for the higher history unit, which have received particular praise at recent Scottish Qualifications Authority events.

We are bringing history to life for thousands of young people by supporting school visits to iconic historic sites. Through the National Trust for Scotland, we have throughout the year of homecoming funded visits to Bannockburn and Culloden. From St Andrew's day, the education suite at the Burns museum will be open, which will enable our young people to enhance their understanding of our national poet. We know from the National Trust for Scotland that schools are travelling from further afield to benefit from such experiences—the number of those who are travelling for more than an hour to get to Bannockburn and Culloden has increased by more than a third. The widening of access to our history and heritage is good news for young people throughout Scotland.

As well as the first-hand experience that is gained from visiting such sites, learning about our past is being invigorated by technology. At Bannockburn, a high-definition film that was launched in September tells the story from the perspective of a young boy who witnesses the battle. It uses computer-generated imagery to bring to life for visitors the size, scale and significance of the events.

Learning about and understanding Scotland's history enriches our understanding of how we see ourselves and how others see us. As we help our young people to prepare for the challenges of a 21st century globalised world, understanding and knowledge of Scotland's history inspires and stimulates critical appraisal. It is vital for the future that we provide our young people with skills for the 21st century. It is important that we consider the achievements of the past to promote a progressive, successful and confident Scotland in the future. We do not teach our young people what to think; we give them the skills to think for themselves.

I move,

That the Parliament recognises the contribution of Scotland's children and young people in schools to a successful Year of Homecoming; acknowledges the importance of learning about Scotland's heritage, history and culture and place in the world, and welcomes the recent launch of Scotland's History online, a world-leading online resource from Learning and Teaching Scotland, which draws on resources from the National Galleries of Scotland, National Museums Scotland, the National Library of Scotland, the National Archives of Scotland and other sources.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour 3:13, 25 November 2009

As most of us who are participating in the debate are very aware, this is our second debate on history in the current parliamentary session. Those who are not in the know might suspect that there must be some sort of problem with the subject—that it is an issue of controversy on which we struggle to reach agreement and which demands our parliamentary time. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The teaching of history continues to attract support from across the political spectrum and commands respect from pupils, parents, teachers and employers.

Today's debate does not reflect any of the real problems in our schools or in the curriculum; rather, it reflects a nationalist obsession. The promotion of Scottish history in the curriculum, direct Scottish Government subsidy for trips to Bannockburn, investment in Scotland's history online: there is nothing wrong with any of those individual decisions, or with the provision of the additional resources. However, when those things are taken together, it is difficult not to worry about implicit politicisation, and about nationalism creeping into the curriculum.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Does Ken Macintosh think that the use of taxpayers' money by the BBC to create programmes about Scottish history is some kind of nationalist plot to overtake the public in Scotland?

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

Far from it. The BBC has many roles. I am sorry, however: it is not the Government's role to promote Scottish history or to involve itself in the choice of elements of the curriculum. My concern about the various items that I highlighted is that we do not see similar Government intervention in any other part of the history curriculum or any other subject, for that matter.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I find it a fascinating concept that we can somehow learn about ourselves without being taught. Can Ken Macintosh explain why it is that, south of the border, where great numbers of people come from a great array of histories, people should mainly be given access to learning about the history of England? The Government there seems to understand that it is important for people to know where they have come from and where they have arrived at.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I do not think that Margo MacDonald understood my argument. I doubt that anybody in the chamber is against the teaching of Scottish history. The question is why specific Government intervention is needed to promote it. What is the perceived problem with Scottish history teaching? Scottish history has always been taught in our schools. I learned Scottish history, and I am very proud of it. However, I do not need a Government—I certainly do not need a nationalist Government—to promote its choice of items within the curriculum. I think that history is important, not the Government's choice.

Most teachers in Scotland, including most history teachers, face a range of concerns about implementation of the new curriculum for excellence. Most parents want to know what the reforms will mean for their children's qualifications, and most pupils will be faced with a new range of subject choices in the next few years. However, none of those groups is beating down the door to say how much they worry about Scottish history.

To be clear, I am not complaining that some resources are being made available to support the teaching of history, such as the new Scotland's history online service. Looking at the choice of material on the website, my eyebrows rose at the prominence that is given to some topics, such as English immigration, the supposed rise of nationalism, and SNP shibboleths that I suspect are of little significance to the rest of us, such as the removal of the stone of destiny or the unsung second verse of the national anthem. On the whole, however, the website is reasonably balanced and it certainly provides access to some excellent and stimulating material.

However, I make two points about the website. First, I highlight the stark contrast between the welcome national resource of an online service and the local and immediate budget cuts that most teachers are struggling with in the classroom. Each of us will be hearing constantly from our constituents stories of schools where there are no books or limited equipment, and no money to replace teaching resources. Putting money into a Scottish history website does not strike me as being as important as providing all our history teachers with the materials that they need to engage their pupils in a range of topics.

Secondly, although there is some limited central investment, it appears that all the resources that are being applied are going into Scottish history. I say again that I trust our teachers not to give young people a Braveheart education, but if Scottish history is clearly better resourced than other fields of historical study, that begins to tip the balance in one direction. I would have thought that most of us want young people to leave school with a broad grasp of modern and ancient history and an understanding of Scottish, British, European and world history. Skewing resources either implicitly or explicitly to reflect a political agenda does not help to achieve that and might indeed exacerbate other problems that are thrown up by the curriculum for excellence.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Ken Macintosh might not be aware that the cost of the website is £60,000.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

As I said, I have no concerns about the work on the website itself. I am concerned about the cumulative effect of several interventions, all of which are solely concerned with Scottish history and none of which, it seems, is concerned with the other academic and real problems that our children face in accessing the curriculum.

Perhaps the most worrying of those problems is the continuing lack of clarity about the examinable curriculum—a point that was made forcefully last week by the president of School Leaders Scotland, Carole Ford. The curriculum for excellence was supposed to declutter the curriculum and reduce the burden of assessment, but we still have too many exams and too much formal assessment. While, on one hand, we have a continuing overemphasis on assessment, the president of School Leaders Scotland highlighted the difficulty, on the other, in measuring wider achievement under the curriculum for excellence. How do we record and celebrate responsible citizenship or pay sufficient credit to our effective contributors? Most telling of all perhaps, that body, which brings together most of Scotland's secondary head teachers, highlighted the lack of any formal measures to assess literacy and numeracy skills until the 10th year of a child's education, when they are too late to be of any use. These are immediate and pressing issues on which we need clear political leadership.

Alongside the need for clarity in the assessment framework, a number of more prosaic issues simply need to be addressed. For example, at the heart of the curriculum for excellence there is a tension between decentralised flexibility and standardised—or, at least, broad—coverage of the curriculum. Greater local choice means that the teaching of history can vary markedly from school to school. The upside of that is that some teachers have greater freedom to enthuse pupils about areas of particular interest; on the other hand, such an approach could lead to a lack of consistency among schools and certainly makes assessment tricky.

I believe that the Scottish Association of Teachers of History has helped Learning and Teaching Scotland draw up loose guidelines or, at least, a planning tool for history, which describes the broad spread of learning that pupils might be expected to cover before the end of compulsory history lessons. As the cabinet secretary pointed out in her opening remarks, that period spans primary school to the end of second year in secondary school.

However, with the budgetary and time constraints on teachers, the often problematic relationship between primary and secondary schools is not getting any better. If not enough attention is paid to those areas, and without good liaison between primary and secondary schools, pupils might end up not with a broad education, but with what has been described as a pick-and-mix approach to history. Although the dilemma has faced the curriculum for excellence since its inception, the worry is that we seem to be no nearer a conclusion and that, if anything, the debate is becoming more polarised.

In history, as in mathematics and the sciences, there are still outstanding concerns about the emphasis on content or knowledge in the curriculum for excellence. For example, under the new curriculum, teachers are encouraged to interact more with pupils using debate or classroom discussion as learning tools. Although such techniques are important and help to engage learners, they take up more time and therefore leave even less time for learning content.

Added to those curricular changes is the fact that little yet is known of the impact of the move to new broad-ranging teaching departments or faculties. The approach has not been implemented in every authority, but the worry remains that if stand-alone subjects such as history are merged into, say, a social studies faculty, they will lose their principal teacher and will, in effect, be downgraded. So far the worries and concerns are mostly anecdotal, but we should have firmer information on which to base our conclusions and policy development, and I believe that the cabinet secretary should look at the issue with a view to collecting evidence.

As well as debating history early last year, we discussed the implementation of the curriculum for excellence. When I look back at both debates, I find it striking how little progress has been made. Among the questions that were raised in the debate on the curriculum, we asked what the Scottish Government was doing to engage parents. What subjects will pupils choose and when? What exams will they sit? What qualifications will they have to show for their efforts? Will a child definitely be able to read and write when he or she leaves school? Will history remain a stand-alone subject? The best that we can say today is that there has been limited progress in some of those areas, but the reforms are crying out for stronger and more decisive leadership. The call now, as then, is for greater clarity around the new curriculum, for decisions on the examinations and qualifications framework and for resources to support implementation.

My looking back at speeches that were made by some members in the previous history debate served merely to illustrate my central concern that the SNP view of history is that it exists to puff up Scotland and to tell us how great a country this is. I believe that that is a blinkered and very limited perspective to give our young people. Surely the confidence that is to be gained from learning history lies in the skills that are instilled by the discipline to evaluate evidence and to criticise objectively, not from developing an overblown regard for our country's past.

There is no lack of enthusiasm or support for Scottish history in this chamber, but many of us worry about the Government's overemphasis on one topic when there are real challenges elsewhere. I do not believe that the SNP view of history is how the subject is taught in our schools, and I trust history teachers to exercise their judgment instead of reflecting a political perspective. However, I worry that this Scottish Government's actions could add an unhelpful dimension to that task at a time when more pressing problems demand teachers' attention.

I move amendment S3M-5226.2, to insert at end:

"and, following concerns expressed by School Leaders Scotland and others over the Curriculum for Excellence, asks ministers to report to the Parliament on the place of history in the developing curriculum."

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 3:24, 25 November 2009

There is nothing like a lively debate on a Wednesday afternoon. However, I am sure that one thing that we can all agree on is that there is far too much ignorance among young people about aspects of our history, as was highlighted in a recent survey of children's knowledge of the second world war that was carried out by Erskine, the Scottish veterans charity. One in 20 children thought that Adolf Hitler was coach of the German football team and that the Holocaust was a celebration of the end of the war. One in 12 believed that the blitz was a European clean-up following the war, and one in 10 thought the SS stood for End Blyton's secret seven.

When we last debated Scotland's history in January last year, I mentioned some other survey results, which showed that 37 per cent of young Scots thought that we became part of the United Kingdom when we were conquered by England, another 28 per cent thought that it was the result of a referendum, and 41 per cent thought that the battle of Culloden was a conflict between wholly Scottish and wholly English armies. So there is much to be done.

We support the Government's intention to strengthen the teaching of Scottish history in the school curriculum. As someone who is passionate about Scottish history, I welcome the increased public interest in the subject. The BBC's "A History of Scotland" series, presented by Neil Oliver, has generated debate, with Professor Devine wading in with his criticisms. Although he might be right to say that it is a rather superficial treatment of the subject, we are seeing Scottish history on prime-time television, so the BBC should be congratulated on its scheduling of such an important series at such an important time of the week.

The Government's motion welcomes the Scotland's history website, to which Ken Macintosh referred. It is certainly a valuable resource that contains a great deal of information. However, I question some of the entries and the omission of certain key and relevant facts. The website is intended to teach about Scottish history—which is of course linked inextricably to the history of England, Wales, Ireland and France—but there is little mention of what happened elsewhere, despite developments in other countries often being highly relevant. For example, in the section on the reformation, there is reference to Martin Luther and the French regency in Scotland, but no mention at all of the reformation in England and how significant that was. The importance of that is highlighted in Harry Reid's excellent new book "Reformation: The Dangerous Birth of the Modern World".

The website's section on devolution reads more like a party manifesto than an objective historical analysis. Ken Macintosh gave some other excellent examples of the website's dwelling on nationalist obsessions, such as the unsung second verse of the national anthem, about which no one in the real world is the least bit concerned.

The Scottish Government has form for promoting a nationalist agenda in everything it does, and we must be extra careful to ensure that there is no attempt to distort Scottish history. In particular, historical resources that are made available to schoolchildren should never be used as a vehicle for propaganda.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Does the member accept that the Scottish Government was not involved in any in the content of Scotland's history online, and neither should it be? The content was developed by professional historians.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Perhaps the cabinet secretary should have waited for a moment to hear my next concern about the funding of school trips to historic sites such as the battlefields of Bannockburn and Culloden and Robert Burns's birthplace. I should say for the record that I have no problem with encouraging schoolchildren to visit historic sites. I have not yet had the opportunity to see the new visitor centre at Culloden for myself, but by all accounts it is excellent and it gives a balanced view of the battle. The centre at Bannockburn is in need of a facelift and I have raised with the Scottish Government the hope that it will consider assisting an improvement of that facility as we approach the 700th anniversary of the battle.

However, I question the focus of the initiative, given that two out of the three sites that have been selected were the scenes of conflict with our southern neighbours, although we know that there were as many Scots supporting the Hanoverians at Culloden as were supporting the Jacobites. So why restrict the initiative to those three sites? Why is there such a narrow focus? Why not have visits to the David Livingstone centre in Blantyre to learn about that great Scottish missionary and explorer, who led the campaign against the slave trade? Why not visit the People's Palace in Glasgow to learn about the social history of Scotland? Why not visit the Museum of Flight in East Lothian to learn about the Scots' role in the battle of Britain? Why is there so restrictive a choice of subjects? Again, the suspicion must be that it is about pursuing a narrow nationalist agenda.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

In relation to the trips that he is talking about, does Murdo Fraser accept the view of Tom Devine, who said:

"If this is under the supervision and organisation of both schools and NTS, I would certainly trust them to be responsible"?

Given that Murdo Fraser cheered when Ken Macintosh said that the stone of destiny being returned to Scotland was a nationalist shibboleth, can he explain Michael Forsyth's role in that event?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I did not mention the stone of destiny in my remarks. All I would say—I am sure that Professor Devine would agree with me on this—is that if we are going to encourage schoolchildren to visit historic sites, which is a worthwhile initiative, why cannot we have a menu of opportunities for young people to see the richness of the history of Scotland and its place in Great Britain and its place in the world? Why should we have such a restricted choice?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

No. I need to make some progress, if Mrs MacDonald will forgive me.

The SNP Government's selective view of history again came to light when it was revealed in a parliamentary answer to me earlier this year that there were no plans to mark the 450th anniversary of the Scottish reformation, which falls in 2010. It is without doubt that the reformation is a hugely significant event in Scottish history, not only in religious terms but also in that it marked the point at which Scotland as a nation started to turn away from our historic links with France and continental Europe and increasingly towards links with Protestant England—perhaps it is for that reason that the SNP is so uncomfortable with it. Historians such as Tom Devine and Harry Reid, who is himself a nationalist, have also criticised the SNP Government, which is so keen to celebrate other anniversaries—such as those associated with Burns—for not being prepared to mark the reformation. We have learnt that even the Edinburgh hogmanay celebrations are to focus on the 450th anniversary of the reformation, with a series of events and activities. Even now, it is not too late for the Scottish Government to join the party, so I hope that it seizes that opportunity.

My amendment, which seems to have caused so much upset among SNP members,

"regrets any attempts to promote a nationalist agenda through the use of public resources and the teaching of history."

I hope that there are, in fact, no such attempts, although I fear that there is some evidence to the contrary. It is vital that our children have a balanced and objective view of history that is not dominated by any one political viewpoint. For that reason, I hope that the Scottish Government will support our amendment to put the matter beyond any doubt.

I move amendment S3M-5266.1, to leave out from "welcomes" to end and insert:

"notes the recent launch of Scotland's History online and regrets any attempts to promote a nationalist agenda through the use of public resources and the teaching of history."

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat 3:32, 25 November 2009

As I listened to Murdo Fraser, I wondered how enthusiastic Mr Knox might have been about a party to celebrate the reformation, but we should perhaps gloss over that observation.

As other members have said, the last time that we debated this subject was back in January 2008, when the SNP was bullish and on the front foot about what it claimed as its successes. The one thing that we have learned since then is that that particular history lesson has not served our education system well. From its record throughout our education system, it is clear that the Scottish Government is not focused on education and, frankly, valuable though Scottish history is, a debate on it is a diversion from the various challenges that our educators face.

Let us be clear: there is hardly a part of our education system where the SNP has kept any of its manifesto promises. On dumping student debt, it has failed; on class sizes of 18, it has failed; on the school building programme, it has failed; on teacher numbers, it has failed; and on the curriculum for excellence, it must try harder. I sometimes wonder who, when the time comes, the SNP will get to write the history of the first two and a half years of its Administration—were he alive, Hans Christian Andersen might be a good choice.

The Government's motion refers to the contribution of our country's children and to the various agencies, museums and galleries that have brought together the online service. In fairness, history is an emotive subject and it is often said—I may be misquoting someone—that the writing of history falls to the victors. Unfortunately, there are circumstances when that comes back and bites the rest of the country. When we look at some of the things that happened in Europe post-1918 and the treaty of Versailles, the consequences of misrepresenting history are apparent to us all.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I agree with most of what Murdo Fraser said but, talking about our history in the context of global history, what are Scottish and English schoolchildren taught about the British empire? Was it a good thing or a bad thing?

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

Given that I am not a history teacher or privy to the detail of classroom lessons, it is a little difficult for me to answer the question specifically. However, I observe that Scots in a variety of guises played a dramatic and significant role in the British empire and that should be taught. Two of our big cities were founded on the back of Scots involvement in some of the less savoury aspects of the empire.

Sometimes we overstate things, but I understand why Ken Macintosh and Murdo Fraser are concerned. It is stating the obvious to say that this Administration has a nationalist agenda that it promotes explicitly as well as implicitly. Our concern, which has been expressed across the chamber and will be again in subsequent speeches, is that using any part of our education system to promote a political agenda—whether covertly or overtly—is far from acceptable. I will say more about that later.

Given the challenges that our education system faces, we could have debated a wide range of topics, not least the plans for teachers' retirement packages that would allow newly qualified teachers to get posts.

Scottish Liberal Democrats endorse the decision to include compulsory questions in the advanced higher in history, but we caution the Government, as other speakers have done, that it is not for any Government of any political complexion in any circumstances to dictate overtly or otherwise the content and structure of teaching materials. Murdo Fraser made a similar point.

History is not a recipe book. Past events are never replicated in the present in quite the same way. Historical events are variable and so are their interpretations, which are part of a constantly shifting process; they are not fixed in time. There is no certainty about finding the future in the past. No political party should attempt to drive a political agenda by using Scottish, European or global history—that is just not acceptable.

We can learn from history how past generations thought and acted, how they responded to the demands and challenges of the times and how they solved their problems. The main thing that history can teach us is that our actions have consequences and that certain choices, once made, cannot be undone easily, or at least not without further consequences.

The ability to analyse past events dispassionately is critical. It is good that our young people's interest in our history continues. It is important that we understand how we came to be where we are, but we must ensure that it is contextualised against the wider background of European and world events. It is not enough just to teach more Scottish history; it has to be about more than kings and queens, battles won and lost, perceived injustices and perceived victories. We need to teach social and local history and, increasingly, our personal history.

We should welcome the website, the resource that it represents and the chance that it gives us to enlighten our young people about Scotland's roles in the world and how the development of the world and of Scotland have impacted on each other, from Mons Graupius and Calgacus to the Hanseatic league, the Panamanian adventure and the slave and tobacco trades, at which Margo MacDonald hinted. The Government has to remember that, if we are going to be made wise and just, it will not be just by reconciling and recollecting our perceptions of the past but by our actions in the present and the responsibilities that we have for the future.

I move amendment S3M-5266.3, to insert at end

"; reiterates its belief that history should be taught without political interference; recognises that the effective teaching of history and all other subjects requires teachers to be equipped with the necessary resources and training, and calls on the Scottish Government to provide urgent clarity over the substance and implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence and the changes to Scotland's national qualifications."

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party 3:40, 25 November 2009

There is an awfy temptation for Scots to ask, "Wha's like us?" and to answer by saying, "Damn few and they're a' deid." That is the knee-jerk reaction of a people who have felt disfranchised and have reacted with a prickly pride.

We can reel off lists of Scots who have done marvellous things and we are, quite rightly, proud to be associated with them. What we do not seem to be able to do easily is place those characters in the period in which they lived. We have no sense of the nation in which they lived and no taste of the air that they breathed. Many of us will punt the greatness of the Scottish enlightenment by quoting Voltaire, who said:

"We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation."

We will praise David Hume's "A Treatise of Human Nature" and argue about whether Adam Smith was a socialist. However, few of us can place those people in the stretch of history. We have a pantheon with no walls—an unfinished monument to mirror the national monument on Calton Hill.

Surely our duty is to ensure that coming generations have a context for their heroes, know what social forces in Dundee helped Mary Slessor to choose her life as a missionary and understand how difficult it was for Elsie Inglis to practise medicine and how Mary Fairfax Somerville came to write influential scientific tomes in the first half of the 19th century.

Delivering a view of the past that explains the country that they inherit is essential for a child in any nation and it is no less so in Scotland.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I wonder how Christina McKelvie imagines that a greater understanding of Elsie Inglis and Mary Slessor would be gained by a visit to Culloden.

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

The member will know better than I do that Culloden is just one choice of all the things that children can visit. My son is going to visit something in Glasgow during the week, which is subsidised by the local authority, too. Whether it is coming from the Government or the local authority, it is all coming from the one pot. It is great learning for our kids.

Delivering a view of the past that explains the country that they inherit is essential for a child in any nation and it is no less so in Scotland. I have repeated that sentence, because it needs to be repeated. Scottish pupils should be aware of the Glasgow rent strikes; the radicals who echoed the calls of the French revolution; how the Church of Scotland made Scotland the most literate nation in the world; how Scottish merchants seized the opportunities of empire; and why Scots cannot walk away gently from the wrongs that were committed in building and maintaining that empire—they should remember that Scots, too, were involved in the slave trade and they should remember, with pride, that they were involved in its abolition.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

The member has just given a very good example of history being written by the winners. She said that Scottish merchants took advantage of the opportunities of empire, which can be interpreted in two ways. I submit that it is impossible to have an unbiased view of history.

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

I cannot add anything to that.

Perhaps if there was a better general understanding of Scotland's history and our links with Ireland—viewed with a less jaundiced eye—we might step along the road to addressing some of the irrational itches of sectarianism.

When our children can easily access the treasure troves of art and architecture from Scotland's past and present, mark our nation's remarkable role in the development of modern medicine, banking and commerce and be inspired by the exploration and adventures of Scots who criss-crossed the world, they will have more chance of becoming bigger people than we currently imagine.

We have a remarkable country with a remarkable history. We have made an incredible contribution to the world and we have an incredible contribution still to make. We should help Scotland's children to celebrate that.

There is great strength in a nation that can look at its own history, mark it well, bask in the reflected glow of achievement, note its downfalls and learn from all of it. We do not own the past and we cannot prescribe or narrow it. That is not our job. We set a framework and we let the teachers teach. We do not tell them what to teach and we do not check their jotters. What is taught in Scottish history classes will be the decision of those who set the classes, those who set the exams and those who inspect them. Politicians cannot and will not interfere.

I have some respect for Murdo Fraser and I suspect that he wrote his amendment in haste. I imagine that he did not mean to insult our history teachers by suggesting that they would promote a political agenda through their teachings. I am sure that he knows as well as the rest of us do that Scotland's teachers are professional and dedicated individuals who will ensure the best possible scholastic results for pupils and who would resist strongly any attempt by any politician to interfere with that and with how they teach children in the classroom.

Likewise, I am sure that Margaret Smith did not seek to disparage the good work and professionalism of our teachers with the empty phrase in her amendment

"history should be taught without political interference".

I am sure that she will make it clear at the earliest opportunity that she does not suspect that Scotland's teachers would impose their political beliefs on their pupils.

I am sure that the framers of all the amendments—I include Ken Macintosh, of course—know that the Government reports to Parliament regularly and is scrutinised by Parliament every sitting week, and particularly at noon on Thursdays. I look forward to Parliament continuing to follow the progress and improvements in Scottish education that the Government is bringing about and I look forward to members welcoming those improvements.

The subject is important not because studying history lodges facts, names and dates in young Scots' minds but because it gives them a panorama of time and a vista of the nation's experience that can inform their thinking and their concepts about the nation and the world in which they live. If memory serves, it was Ken Macintosh who said that in the chamber a while back.

History belongs to the nation. [Interruption.] I am pleased to support the motion.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour 3:46, 25 November 2009

I apologise for selecting the collapsing lectern.

I will broaden the discussion from the subject of history and focus on Scotland's contribution to science, engineering and technology and on our future in those subjects. Scotland has a proud record in those fields that is an important part of Scotland's history—it is much more important than battles against the English. Scots like to point out—particularly to our friends south of the border—that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, John Logie Baird the television, James Dewar the vacuum flask and James Watt the steam engine; that Alexander Fleming discovered antibiotics; and that Joseph Lister introduced antiseptic surgery.

The great James Clerk Maxwell, who was brought up in Glenlair in Kirkcudbrightshire, founded the theory of electromagnetism from which Einstein's theories of relativity grew. Maxwell is not yet as well known in his native land as he should be, but I was pleased to attend the unveiling of an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers plaque at Glenlair in the summer to celebrate Maxwell's equations.

Thomas Telford, the famous civil engineer and builder of roads and bridges, was born at Westerkirk, just outside Langholm. He is a famous son of my constituency.

Scotland has not produced only male scientists, although they predominate. The mathematician Mary Fairfax Somerville, who was born in Jedburgh, was one of the first two women scientists to be recognised in the United Kingdom and admitted to the Royal Astronomical Society.

Will Scotland's reputation for science and engineering in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries be replicated in the 21st century?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Elaine Murray touches on an important point, which is why emphasis has been placed on science in the baccalaureate. It is important to note that, in the experiences and outcomes of the curriculum for excellence, an understanding of the likes of James Clerk Maxwell is exactly what we want people to have.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

I will touch on concerns from the scientific community about the curriculum for excellence.

Scotland has achieved well in some new technologies, such as games technologies, but the concern is that we might not continue to achieve without considerable investment. Scotland will not continue to excel in science and technology if we do not get the fundamentals right. Resting on our laurels and past greatnesses will not deliver a proud record for the future.

I have always believed that science has something for everyone and that, if it is presented accessibly, everyone can enjoy aspects of science, as with art and music. It is not difficult to enthuse young children about science projects, particularly if they involve going outside, getting dirty, making noises or smells and examining bugs and insects.

However, a transition must be made from enjoying finding out about concepts in a rudimentary manner to developing the skills that are essential to higher-level scientific practice. Mathematics and numeracy are vital and problem-solving skills are essential but not always understood. Swotting up to remember a formula is not the same as understanding a problem and knowing how to apply the appropriate procedures to find the solution.

Some such skills are generic and interdisciplinary. When I worked for the Open University, I was part of a group that taught transferable skills. However, by the time that I left the Open University, I had concluded that such skills could not be taught out of context—the context of a scientific discipline is important to developing the skill.

What concerns me and many people with an interest in science education about the curriculum for excellence is that it does not recognise sufficiently the importance of developing core scientific competencies, skills and knowledge through the study of scientific disciplines. If that does not happen, we will not produce the next generation of good Scottish scientists and engineers. I appreciate that the final version of the curriculum for excellence has clarified the scientific concepts that underpin the five areas of science that are to be taught, but concerns remain that the requirements are too vague and lack focus and fundamentals. In the view of science professionals, it remains important that discrete sciences should be taught by graduates in those subjects, as they are best able to pick up on the points that lead to students' later development in the subject. Science changes rapidly and, unless teachers are confident of their capabilities in the subjects that they teach, it will be hard for them to imbue their pupils with enthusiasm.

Teachers need support through professional development. Last April, Professor Lindsay Paterson expressed dismay at the lack of subject expertise, particularly among primary teachers, and called for a fundamental reform of training to improve the situation. More recently, he has suggested an apprenticeship style of teacher training to transfer practical teacher training into schools.

For many years, there have been problems with recruiting science teachers in secondary schools and the age profile of science teachers has been increasing. A cynical interpretation of the curriculum for excellence is that it tackles the problem of the shortage of science subject teachers by reducing the teaching of individual science subjects. Rather than try to avoid the issues, we must address them, even though they are difficult. Science must be made more attractive to students in the later years of secondary school. We need to get away from the prevalent view that, if someone has good grades, they should study medicine. We need some of the most able students to choose positively to study science at university.

That means that the problems of career progression, pay and retention must be addressed. About 18 months ago, I spoke to a meeting of post-doctoral scientists at the University of Edinburgh. Honestly, I was horrified to discover that the issues had not moved on since I was a young scientist. I am not by any means trying to place the blame for that at the door of the Scottish Government, but we have not addressed the issue in 30 years. It needs to be discussed and tackled.

I fear that the curriculum for excellence's approach to science remains somewhat expedient and that it does not totally address the fundamentals. If we do not get the curriculum right, Scotland's contribution to science will be something that we study as part of the history curriculum. I believe that Scotland will continue to have a lot to contribute and that Scottish scientists and engineers could make a valuable contribution on many major and important problems that face the world. However, we must get the curriculum in schools right so that we can do that. I ask ministers to examine the curriculum for excellence and to talk to science professionals about their continuing concerns on some aspects of the curriculum.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party 3:53, 25 November 2009

I declare an interest as a published author of several books about Scottish history.

I will start by thinking about the emergence of the chamber in which we now debate. A huge cultural awakening took place in the 1970s, and perhaps slightly before that, through to the period when the movement for creating a Scottish Parliament took form. That cultural awakening embraced our history in the wider context and wished to celebrate aspects of Scottishness that we embody. History and learning about history in Scotland are about the people we are. Knowing more of that helps us all to be comfortable and to celebrate who we are as a people.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

Not just yet, thank you. I would rather develop my argument. The member might find something in it on which she can intervene later.

In Hamish Henderson's foundation lecture for the Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland in the 1960s, he said:

"Scots songs are evidently full of heart and reality. They are not written for the stage. They were the slow growth of intense passion, simple tastes, and a heroic state of society. Love, mirth, patriotism were not the ornament but the inspiration of these songs."

Knowing who we are as a people embraces all those aspects of Scottishness comfortably. Scottish history in our schools, especially in more recent years, has begun to develop as a means to give our young people a much more balanced view of their history than we got when I was at school, and that is why people are becoming more comfortable and knowledgeable. How many adults and children in our population know enough of the thread of Scotland's history to be able to tell us how it all evolved?

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I am interested in what the member says, having known him since just after he left school. I put it to him, and ask him to agree, that we are children not only of our country but of our era. While the Scottish nationalism that he talked about was beginning to develop in the 1970s, there were similar national movements throughout the world—we could even include the black consciousness movement in America. We are children of our time, so Rob Gibson and Murdo Fraser should get together and work out how our history as taught in schools would exemplify that.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

There are many things that I could say about that intervention—I could give a whole lecture about it—but Margo MacDonald is right that Scotland was developing at a time when other people's struggles were developing too. Is it not interesting that it seems only natural to someone in the United States—or any other country—that they study their own history? Members should ask the young interns we have from the University of Edinburgh whether they understand that it is only recently that we have had a range of material in history through which young Scots could study their own country. It is an incredible circumstance. However, the position has improved thanks to the cultural awakening and the development of democracy in Scotland, and here we are discussing it.

The year of homecoming was intended to engender pride in and celebrate the Scots' cultural heritage. Schoolchildren have embraced that through their work in all sorts of exciting ways. The cabinet secretary and others have commented on those ways and I wish that I had seen some more of that work, which I hope to do. I believe that members would be inspired by it and realise that it is not some narrow nationalistic view of Scotland but one that embraces aspects of Scottishness that we all recognise and is therefore to be cherished.

I wish that we would get away from the suggestion that there is somehow a nationalist slant on history. We refer in the motion to the bodies that support Scotland's history online. They are the National Galleries of Scotland, the National Museums of Scotland, the National Library of Scotland and the National Archives of Scotland—not the nationalist archives and so on. Do members want to get rid of the word "national" as well and reserve it for the UK nation? We must recognise that we should deal with some of our national history in that context too.

The curriculum for excellence guidelines to help teachers to embrace the Scots language and Gaelic have energised many more of them to use those media to tell our story and include Scottish life in it. I also recall that everybody agreed that we should have a Scottish history question in the advanced higher; it was seen as a good development. Therefore, I suggest that, when we examine the materials, think about where we have come from and think about the point that we have reached, we should see in the first flowering of Scotland's history online the kinds of stories that people can pick up—I do not understand how members can call "Trainspotting" nationalistic either—and we should be able to find issues in those stories that excite children and allow them to understand more of our Scottish story, whether urban squalor, votes for women or whatever else, in a national and international context.

The motion is excellent and the begrudging amendments only take away from the excellent view that people are beginning to have as they become relaxed about their own history.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour 3:59, 25 November 2009

I am happy to participate in this debate. I declare an interest as a former history teacher and, indeed, as someone who was taught Scottish history in a Glasgow school 40 years ago. This subject is not new. I am a bit despondent at the way in which some of the minister's comments were largely an opportunity to hook on to the issue of the homecoming. All who love history should resist the temptation to create a year-zero approach to what has been and is being done in this field.

More generally, there are loads of opportunities to have an interesting discussion about the role of history in schools, but people want us to wrestle with big issues in, for example, education and the care system. I am concerned that the Scottish Government has chosen this debate, which feels, notwithstanding the quality of the speeches, a bit like a stocking filler. There is a danger that what we see now in this Parliament is Executive action with little opportunity for scrutiny, and this place simply being a debating chamber and nothing more.

It has always been the case that, in teaching history, people have wrestled with the balance between history at the level of local communities, at the Scottish level, and far beyond, to give young people an international dimension. That issue is nothing new. It is important that our young people understand how some of the broader movements across the world were expressed in Scotland.

On the question that Margo MacDonald raised, I do not think that we teach our young people something as crude as whether the empire was good or bad; we develop in them an understanding and a capacity to think for themselves, with enough information—which in the past would not have been given to them—so that they can come to a judgment. If our history is about anything, it is about developing the minds of our young people in that regard. I believe that we should have described this debate as being not about Scotland and its history, as if it were one entity, but about the people of Scotland and their history, and an understanding of the diversity of experience, culture and values in Scotland and how they have related to the wider world.

We know that some in the Scottish National Party are keen to recast the political debate as being between us and them; between Scotland and England in the past and, perhaps a little more subtly, now between Scotland and London or the rest of the United Kingdom. Some in the SNP seek to capture the language of oppression and freedom for now and our past in describing the relationship with the rest of the UK. That is a political debate, which will be reflected in our understanding of history. I believe that the debate is about a partnership with the rest of the UK, but others believe that it is about oppression and freedom. That is a legitimate debate for us to have, but we must be careful about the way in which we present the priorities for teaching in history. There are fundamental differences.

I was concerned about the language that the minister used when she talked about "reclaiming our history". If young people are reclaiming their history, who has taken it from them? Young people will always take the opportunities that are provided in school to learn, test and understand. The idea that our culture has been silenced in some way resonates with the SNP's view of the relationship with the rest of the UK, but few other people recognise that view.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I have too much respect for the member to disagree with a great deal of what she says, but I tried to make the point in my earlier intervention that there will always be at least two views of historical events. For example, some children were taught in Scottish schools—I do not know whether they still are—that Winston Churchill was a great war leader and that we should remember that that was his contribution; other children were taught that he turned the guns on the miners at Tonypandy. Both views were correct, but both indicated a bias, or perhaps not a bias—

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I accept what the member says. My point is that history teaching at its most liberating encourages people to scrutinise for bias and to test it against other information that they are given. We must recognise the importance of taking a rounded view of history and understanding how change happens and why. For example, there are those in the Parliament, particularly in the SNP, who emphasise that this Parliament is a reconvened Parliament, but the interesting question for me is why this place, its elected members, its purpose and its priorities are so different from the Parliament that joined the union in 1707. This Parliament's story is one of a journey of radicalism, of change and of movements in which people recognised that things in the past were unacceptable. The fight for suffrage was part of that journey and it is, in my view, a far more interesting issue—

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

Let me make this point.

We need to seek to understand the movements that transformed the lives of ordinary people and that tackled injustice and exploitation within our communities—some of which was perpetrated by Scot upon Scot. I was taught about the clearances. If some who were involved in making decisions about the year of homecoming had a better understanding of the clearances, they would not have put the clan chief gathering at the centre of a celebration of the people of Scotland in the modern age.

For me, the big issue is how we make history not just about the big history. Too many people in the SNP want to talk about the big history—I recognise that Christina McKelvie identified individuals and movements below that—but, in my view, the big argument that we need to wrestle with in history is understanding the individual, the community and the local, and how events there paralleled with what happened in other parts of the world. History should be a liberating subject rather than being about them and us or oppression versus freedom.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

On the member's point about the different views of particular events in history, one aspect of the online resource is interviews with history professors who take different perspectives on the same period in history. That will help to develop skills for analysis and debate and to get people to make up their own mind. Does she welcome that part of the online resource?

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

You must wind up, Ms Lamont.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I have not not welcomed anything that encourages young people to think about all of their history. My point is that a separate element to the debate is the overlaying of a template or view of Scotland's relationship with the rest of the world and of Scotland as one entity. Our job is to provide the resources and teachers to ensure that young people are given the capacity to think for themselves and to come to their view of how our history—the history of all the people of Scotland—has shaped our priorities and choices for the future.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

We move to wind-up speeches.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat 4:07, 25 November 2009

As Hugh O'Donnell said, history is emotive, and we have had some emotive—as well as some good— speeches this afternoon. However, I worry a little for Johann Lamont's Christmas if she thinks that this debate is a stocking filler. More seriously, we can and must give children the information that they need so that they can learn, scrutinise, test and understand. On that, I totally agree with Johann Lamont.

Every one of us will have had a teacher who inspired us. For me, it was my higher history teacher, Mr Sommerville, with his tales of Bismarck, Waterloo, the great exhibition and the second battle of Bull Run, which I remember in particular—

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

Let's not go there.

When I think back to my schooling, I cannot remember being taught a great deal of Scots history, therefore I agree with the Government on that point. I remember having an interest in Scottish history that I took on in later life, but I do not remember it being taught much in school. At least, we were not taught the kind of history that would have told me who we are and how we came to be the nation that we are today. We heard little about the enlightenment or the men and women of innovation who literally built the modern world, never mind modern Scotland. Elaine Murray mentioned some of them: Fleming, Alexander Graham Bell, Logie Baird, Adam Smith and James Watt.

However, it is right to point out as we approach St Andrew's day—I feel strongly about this, but the cabinet secretary should not take this point the wrong way—that I am not prepared to allow the SNP, or any political party or any other group in Scotland to take away our flag, our history, St Andrew's day or any of those other things from any Scot. We should not be afraid of teaching Scottish history in Scotland's schools or of standing up and saying that we want to celebrate St Andrew's day and waving our flag. It is our flag. It is no more Fiona Hyslop's flag than it is mine. That is not meant in any way as an attack on the cabinet secretary.

We should accept that a successful year of homecoming is good news for Scotland and for all of us, and is something that we should all want to see. A number of members have talked about the homecoming, an idea that was championed many years ago by my former colleague Donald Gorrie, who used to be a teacher. I am sure that he, like me, would want to commend the hundreds of schools across Scotland that have embraced and celebrated this year of homecoming. I have been hugely impressed by some of the efforts that I have seen in my local schools.

I applaud the work that has been done across Scotland by local authorities, Historic Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland and others in preserving our historical buildings and passing on the history of Scotland to our children and to visitors and Scots alike.

I believe firmly that Scottish students should be taught Scottish history, and I agree that it would be appropriate to have a compulsory higher element that covered a wide range of topics, but it must be handled professionally by teachers, not by politicians.

I have always loved history. I studied it through school and into university. A few years ago, when my children were small, I worked as a tour guide in Edinburgh, out of a desire to instil in others the same fascination with this country and this city that I feel, so I have no hesitation in saying that I want Scottish children to be inspired in the same way.

However, it is not good enough to have history lessons that are full of narrowly drawn characters that are more at home on the front of a shortbread tin, and it is certainly not acceptable for the teaching of Scottish history to be hijacked by any group of politicians. Teaching a version of Scottish history that views everything as being bound up in Scotland's relationship with England is no better than Scottish history being completely absent from the curriculum, and it represents no more modern and certainly no more enlightened an approach.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

No, I want to make some progress.

We know that Scotland has a rich and varied history. Whether through formal education, the new Scotland's history website or television—including the history of Scotland programmes that are on at the moment—there is a place for history across all the media. That is to be applauded, but we must not forget that the mere fact that we are proud of our country does not mean that every thing that we have ever done is good. We should ensure that our children have the skills that they need to look at our history and the swings and roundabouts of political, social and economic change, and to ask the right questions, so that they can get the right historical balance. We do not want them to have a perception of past events that is skewed to satisfy any one political agenda.

It is clear from the debate that many members share that concern, which is encapsulated in our amendment and that of the Conservatives. Ken Macintosh was right to highlight that the Scottish Government does not appear to be taking a similar level of interest or involving itself as much in other parts of the curriculum. Why does Scottish history need such a high level of intervention? Elaine Murray's points about science posed the same question.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I have two points to make. First, we have not had a history summit, but we have had a summit on science in schools. Secondly, history is about facts and evidence. There has been a great deal of assertion throughout the chamber, which is reflected strongly in the content of some of the amendments. What evidence or facts can Margaret Smith produce to show that her view of what might happen is happening now?

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

A number of members have commented on the fact that two out of the three visitor attractions for which extra money is being provided for visits are sites of battles between Scotland and England.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

Children could be funded to visit all sorts of other places. The perception is backed up by the reality of money being put into field trips to places where we have had battles with people whom the SNP sees as enemies but whom other members see as partners. Those are the places to which the Government thinks that our children should be taken.

It is important that our children learn about the wider lessons of history. That is why it is important that funding continues for school visits to Auschwitz, which I know is an issue that Ken Macintosh has taken up and the cabinet secretary has supported. Such visits are extremely important. There is also a need to ensure that some of our industrial museums that welcome children will survive, so that they can continue to tell young people and students in this country about our economic and social history, which is just as important.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

You should be finishing now.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

I know that teachers share some of the concerns that we have heard about today. Developing outcomes for the teaching of subjects is only part of that. The curriculum for excellence is in serious need of further attention from the cabinet secretary. She can try to prevaricate on the issue and she can try to run away from it, but she cannot hide from it. It must be addressed and it must be addressed now.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative 4:14, 25 November 2009

This has been a stimulating debate. I do not think that any member would disagree that Scottish history and its inclusion in the examination curriculum are of paramount importance. However, like Ken Macintosh and Johann Lamont, I am puzzled and more than a little alarmed by the Government's assertion that something new is happening and that debating history twice rather than debating other subjects such as physical education is a greater priority in this session. To my knowledge, we have not had a debate on PE or modern languages; we have certainly not had the further debate on reading, writing and arithmetic in primary schools that the cabinet secretary once promised.

Scottish history's rich diversity and our deep-rooted links with many other parts of the world are good enough reasons to study the subject. In addition, everyone in Scotland should learn about 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. Learning about Scottish history also provides us with necessary insights 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.

Tom Devine wrote that Scottish history is a subject

"of enormous dynamism and relevance".

He was right. He also made the valid point that the erosion of Scottish history teaching began with the insistence by some that there could be a place for history in the curriculum only if it was shared with geography and modern studies. As a result, history became no longer part of the compulsory curriculum beyond the second year, and it is not without reason that groups such as the Scottish Association of Teachers of History express deep concern about the decline in the number of principal teachers of history. Throughout Scotland, history departments are feeling that they are being continually squeezed out of the curriculum, with the result that they are forever being asked to condense the subject down to tight, simplified modules that bear little resemblance to the Scottish history courses of the past. That is regrettable.

I am concerned about the replacement of knowledge with skills-based learning. People such as Professor Lindsay Paterson of the University of Edinburgh have referred to that. Modern approaches to teaching should be introduced, by all means—otherwise, we could never hope to move forward or even stand still—but it is wrong to suggest that that can happen only if some of the knowledge-based curriculum gives way.

Conventional wisdom has also been challenged by people who think that history can be taught only in the context of concepts such as war, migration, industrialisation and revolution. Such an approach is perhaps fascinating for a university postgraduate degree, but how can we expect children to understand events if they are not put into chronological context? The obsession with skills to the detriment of knowledge and the absence of chronology have done great damage to the teaching of history in our classrooms. Some of the problems that the Government has attempted to flag up this afternoon are the result of that.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

The member makes a good point. That is why we want to bring back the work of the history curriculum for excellence group, which has looked at pedagogy and the Scottish spine to ensure that there is context and knowledge. I agree with the member that we cannot replace knowledge with skills; rather, we must ensure that skills are in addition to knowledge. I am with her on that. Does she acknowledge that that is where the Government is taking history and curriculum for excellence work?

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

I hope that it is, because the Government does not have the confidence of the teaching profession that history is a discrete enough subject in the senior school curriculum. Ken Macintosh alluded to that in his opening remarks. The teaching profession wants more help with what the knowledge content of history should be within the chronological structure to which I referred.

It is important to put Scottish history in the right context and to ensure that what is taught is, first and foremost, factually correct and balanced. That picks up on many points that have been made. The Scottish National Party might in many cases be well intentioned in that respect, but let us consider things such as "Braveheart" being paraded as a cultural icon of modern Scotland. Perhaps it is in terms of box office returns and in light of the exciting imagery of Scotland's wild landscapes and swirling kilts, but never let it be said that that film is in any way an accurate interpretation of Scottish history. It is the opposite.

I want to pursue that theme for a moment. Introspection is the worst possible offence that we can commit in teaching history. Scotland has always been at her best in leading the world in economics, science, medicine and philosophy when she has been at the cutting edge of the international community. We have been highly regarded throughout the world as a result, and being such an integral part of the political, economic and social networks of the wider world has meant much to the rich tapestry of the nation.

Scotland has a very proud history. We need no contortion, no twist nor any attempt to alter our past. By all means, we can challenge established views—that has always been an integral part of the learning process. By all means, let our pupils be exposed to different interpretations of historical events and the different commentaries that describe them. However, whether our pupils are being taught about Bonnie Prince Charlie or Mary Queen of Scots, they deserve to be taught evidence, not myth. Above all, they deserve their history to be well taught and from the correct perspective.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour 4:20, 25 November 2009

At the beginning of his speech, Ken Macintosh asked why we are having this debate today. Given the opportunity to have an education debate, I am sure that the attendees of this morning's higher education conference would have welcomed the opportunity for Parliament to debate the future of higher education, especially in the context of the potential changes to arrangements south of the border and the impact that they might have on the competitiveness of Scottish education. People in the schools sector would have wanted us to discuss teacher numbers and the current problems that the cabinet secretary is wrestling with. Those issues have not been brought to the chamber today, however, and nor has the cabinet secretary come here to discuss the criticisms of her implementation of the curriculum for excellence that were made last week by headteachers.

It is a measure of what is important to the SNP that Scottish history is the chosen topic.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

It is not just the SNP; it is important to certain people within the SNP that we focus on Scottish history for a particular reason. I will give way to the cabinet secretary to discuss that point if she wishes.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I am conscious that the member was late in arriving for the debate. In my opening speech, I addressed some of Carole Ford's concerns and explained how she was reassured by explanations of the future qualifications that she had criticised. I am sorry that the member did not hear that—he might otherwise have reflected on it.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

I heard the cabinet secretary's comments. Although she may have had a discussion with Carole Ford, many of the points that Carole Ford made have some validity. That is why I have lodged a series of questions to the cabinet secretary, to which I hope that she will be able to respond quickly.

It has been an aspect of Scottish education in both primary and secondary schools to focus on the nature of Scotland—on Scotland's culture, history, identity and institutions. That permeates the curriculum in Scotland, which is entirely correct. The idea that, somehow, Scottish history was not taught in the past is entirely erroneous:

Scottish history has always had a significant place in the curriculum of Scottish schools.

The issue that we must confront is the kind of Scottish history that is taught. Is it the kind of history that is selected on the basis of the professional judgments of teachers and other professionals in the field, or is it the kind of history that is dictated by the whimsical, political and ideological approaches of ministers? The ministers will argue that they do not want to interfere in any way with the teaching of history, but there is quite a lot of evidence of at least encouragement to move in particular directions and some evidence of interference. There is a big danger in that.

When we teach history, we must not teach a prescribed set of facts. We must not say, "This is how history was" from our perspective. We must give people an understanding of what people at the time thought that they were doing—what they were fighting for, what motivated them, what animated them, what ideas created their perception of the world and what social movements they were engaged in. That means that we must be true to the period and understand what was going on at the time. We cannot impose our 21st century perceptions, values and aspirations on the 19th or 18th century and say that they were what people were working towards.

All too often, when I listen to SNP members, I think that they want to rewrite history because, from their perspective, it has the wrong ending or has not come up with the right answers. I do not think that Scottish teachers think that, but there is a significant element of people in the SNP that does. Their approach is why we keep coming back to this debate; it denies the reality of history.

The rent strikes were mentioned, so I will use them as an example of what I am talking about. There were rent strikes in the second decade of the 20th century in Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle. Those rent strikes were built up out of the industrial experience of those communities at that time and were similar to each other. To try to understand what happened with the rent strikes through a national prism is not to be truthful about what was going on.

Likewise, the enlightenment was not a Scottish enlightenment in a narrow sense. It was a cultural enlightenment that took ideas from all over Europe and blended them in a new way. Scotland had an important cultural role in that, as it provided the fulcrum of that synthesis, but we borrowed and we handed on. We are part of European history. If we teach Scottish history in isolation from European history, we are not serving our children well.

It is important to consider the intellectual training that we are giving to young people when they study history and how we are equipping them to get on in the world that they will encounter afterwards. If we teach a particularly enclosed and selective version of Scottish history, which Murdo Fraser talked about, we will do a serious disservice to young people, as they need the skills, knowledge and capabilities that come not from a narrow, parochial view of the world but from a broad understanding of the cultural context. For Scotland, that cultural context includes the rest of the United Kingdom and places such as Ireland and Wales. It includes Scotland's link with the British empire, which Tom Devine has written about, the spread of the diaspora into the United States, Canada and Australia, and Scotland's role in Europe.

Rob Gibson said that he was relaxed about our own history, but I do not think that the SNP is relaxed. Actually, I am a bit worried about the use of the word "our" in that phrase. History is history. It is not about "our" history; it is about what happened and how we understand how it felt to the people who experienced it.

We do not want to have political interference in the process. It might have been the right decision to teach a Scottish subject instead of the policy of the appeasement of Germany as a control subject in the higher examination, but was that decision exclusively and solely made by the teachers who are responsible? I do not know, and I would like an answer from the minister to that question.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

You should be winding up now, Mr McNulty.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

It is important that we get the right balance between various elements in the curriculum. It should not be dictated by ministers or by the prejudices of those who animate ministers to bring this kind of debate to the chamber.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I am sorry, Mr McNulty. You had eight minutes in which to speak; I thought that you had six. I cut you off a bit sooner than I should have.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party 4:28, 25 November 2009

I was really looking forward to Des McNulty's last two minutes.

I thank members for what has been a stimulating, engaging and lively debate. My notes suggest that I should say that the level of historical knowledge in this Parliament is truly impressive. I would say that it is, in most cases, but I will come back to that issue later.

There seems to be widespread agreement about the importance of learning about Scotland's heritage, history and culture, and a strong recognition that Scotland's history provides a wealth of material that can inspire our children and young people and enable them to develop the critical skills that are essential for the challenges of the 21st century.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I would like to make a start to my speech first.

Although there seems to be widespread agreement about the importance of learning, there is perhaps not the same consensus about the importance of today's debate. It is important that we debate this issue and discuss the important new resource that we have.

Around St Andrew's day, it is natural for many of us to reflect on a sense of history, especially at the end of this homecoming year. I would like to remind everyone how we are actively promoting learning about Scotland's history and equipping our young people with the knowledge and skills that they need to be successful learners, competent individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens.

First, learning about Scotland's history is firmly embedded in the curriculum for excellence's experiences and outcomes, which were published in April following extensive engagement and which provide a clear framework for the biggest transformation in education in a generation.

We have glow, which is a world-leading secure schools intranet that provides fantastic opportunities to develop innovative teaching and learning practices. It is paving the way for an avant-garde education system that will inspire—and is inspiring—other countries to look to Scotland as an example of a leading education system.

We also have, as has been discussed today, the Scotland's history online resource. Last month, through Learning and Teaching Scotland and in partnership with our national galleries, museums, library and archive sources—the sources do not come from some SNP back room, but from those nationally accepted resources—we launched Scotland's history, which is a world-leading resource that benefits all learners who have an interest in Scotland. The site has had more than 20,000 visitors in the first month, and there have been almost 100,000 page hits to the resource. That is a great start, and it reflects the quality of the materials on the site.

It is worth repeating Fiona Hyslop's point that those materials came about as the result of concerns that history teachers expressed about the lack of materials. History teachers welcomed the materials when they were produced; there is not some ministerial plot to force materials on teachers, as it was the teachers who asked for them.

All those resources build on the exceptional work that schools have done this year on homecoming. The cabinet secretary has already mentioned the winners of the homecoming award. In August, I was fortunate enough to visit one of the other finalists, Dallas primary school, which I understand showcased its work last night at Stirling castle. That brings us back to Rob Gibson's point about some of the excellent work and rich tasks that have been done in schools as part of the curriculum for excellence.

The homecoming research by pupils of Dallas primary school discovered that a former pupil of the school, Thomas Dallas, became a vice-president of America in 1867, and gave his name to Dallas in Texas. Another Dallas boy, Scotty Philip—the research does not explain whether that was his name before he went to America or if he adopted it once he was there—travelled to America in the 19th century, married the Indian Crazy Horse's sister-in-law, and then saved the American bison from being hunted to extinction.

The historical research that those young people undertook to unearth that information was exceptional—I saw the whole process and the narrative that they followed. The pleasure of learning about their own environments and what people from their own area—a very small area—had done gave them a real sense of pride, place and identity. Rob Gibson was right to highlight some of those points.

Some of the proposed amendments to the motion have been mentioned. Murdo Fraser's amendment suggests that we are promoting

"a nationalist agenda through the use of public resources and the teaching of history."

That was the same line that he took when I visited Bannockburn for the official launch of the funding from the National Trust for Scotland for subsidised school visits to Bannockburn, Culloden and the Burns birthplace museum. I should say, as Murdo Fraser said to Margaret Smith, that Culloden was not a fight between Scotland and England. It really is important, given all the learning that Margaret Smith told us she had undertaken at school and university, that she revisits that and gets the facts right.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

I would like to put on record that I visited the Culloden centre a year or so ago, and I think that it is very good. I say clearly that Culloden was not just about the Scottish and the English. People were on different sides: the Irish, the French and all sorts of people were involved. I was simply making a point about public perception. We are talking about two battle sites, one of which the minister's party marches to every single year to commemorate a victory over the English.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

Perhaps Margaret Smith is writing her own version of history. It is worth pointing out that, in many countries in which there has been a battle that achieves national freedom, there tends to be a celebration of it. Perhaps Scots are different in that respect, but I do not think so.

The money that was put aside for the visits and that has been put into the online resource—around £60,000—is completely overshadowed by the £200,000 that we have committed to the Holocaust Educational Trust visits. The idea that we are simply concentrating on Scottish priorities and a Scottish emphasis is wrong, as I said to Murdo Fraser.

It is disappointing that the same argument has been trotted out with regard to our world-leading online resource, which, as I said, has been developed by Learning and Teaching Scotland in partnership with national galleries, museums, libraries, archives and other sources. As Rob Gibson pointed out, those are national resources that I understand have the support of members on all sides of the chamber. The idea that that work is part of a nationalist plot is a nonsense.

To be fair, Margaret Smith mentioned the idea of a Scotland-England battle a couple of times, and it was mentioned by other members too. I did not hear anyone on the SNP side of the chamber talking about Scotland-England battles. I heard members talking about the need to understand social change, the environment in which big historical events took place, and the national and local context for those events.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

In that case, does the minister agree that, as I said in my speech, we should talk about the Scottish people and their history, and therefore emphasise the diversity within Scotland, rather than about Scotland and its history as one entity?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I agree with the first part of that, but the point about Scotland as an entity should not enter into the debate at all. It just makes a nonsense of the teaching of history. I think that most countries in the world would appreciate that.

I also think that Johann Lamont got her arguments slightly confused when she condemned the entire SNP for talking about oppression. I did not hear anybody talking about national oppression during the debate, although members might have mentioned social oppression. However, she went on to talk about the clearances and the clan gathering. There is a bit of confusion in what she was trying to say. She condemned us for talking about something that she was more keen to talk about than we were.

The vital point was made that the resources that have been provided were not dreamed up by the SNP. They came about as a result of a request from teachers who were concerned that there has been a dearth of materials in the subject for many years. We responded to that and provided the materials. People quoted Tom Devine, who has welcomed the website as a powerful tool—I think that those were his words.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

I do not think that anybody is denying that, but can the minister explain why the Government has chosen to have two debates on the concept of Scottish history in schools but has not dealt with some other extremely pressing matters in our classrooms?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I have been here on Thursday morning after Thursday morning to debate education with Elizabeth Smith. We have debated many of the issues. It is within the gift of all the Opposition parties to debate things that they want to debate, and indeed they have done that on many occasions. However, there is no reason why we should not discuss Scotland's history on an occasion that is close to St Andrew's day and towards the end of the year of homecoming.

Margaret Smith's amendment seeks to widen out the debate to include the curriculum for excellence, implementation of which was mentioned a number of times. Not everyone will have the same experience, but my experience is that a huge amount of work is being done on the curriculum for excellence. I mentioned Dallas primary school, but I could have mentioned Monifieth primary school or 101 others. Now that we are in the year of implementation, it is evident that there is real enthusiasm and a real embracing of the change that is coming about. I do not deny that there were some anxieties initially.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

Does the minister agree that progress is still patchy? Some local authorities and schools are making good progress and people in them are working well, but elsewhere there is still some concern, particularly in the secondary sector. The job still has to be finished.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

There is an element of truth in that, particularly in the distinction between secondary and primary schools. That is perhaps natural, given the subject-specific nature of our secondary school teaching compared with primary school teaching.

Last week, I was at a conference at Aberdeenshire Council that was attended by 3,500 people who are involved in education. It was a proactive, enthusiastic conference: people are looking forward to the changes. Uneven progress is bound to happen when there is such a major change, but we are now seeing good examples being shared among schools and councils, so I am pleased about the progress that is being made.

Johann Lamont asked whether Scotland's history is being reclaimed. It has certainly been neglected in the past. As Rob Gibson said, most people's experience of being taught history in Scotland's schools was not good. I certainly had to wait until I went off to university to get a reasonable understanding of what I, unlike Des McNulty, am happy to call the Scottish enlightenment. Many academics call it that, and I do not see the problem with doing so, even though it took place, obviously, in a European and global context.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Briefly, to help the minister over his embarrassment, I point out that the Flemish and Dutch schools of painting were not all stuffed full of Flemish and Dutch painters. They were located there.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I mentioned that the Scottish enlightenment took place in a European context. The interchange between thinkers throughout Europe was extremely important.

Scotland's young people, in particular, need the opportunity to access resources that they have perhaps not had in the past. That point is made not only by me but by teachers of history. Where appropriate, we should also celebrate Scotland's history. As we heard from Elaine Murray and others, it is a story of immense achievement. I do not think that she mentioned James Kilpatrick—is that his name?—who is from her area and who invented the bicycle. Our history is a story of immense achievement in industry, medicine, science and law, and also in global exploration, as I am sure Margo MacDonald would remind us, for bad reasons as well as good. Our history also includes literature on a scale that belies the size of a nation such as ours.

As a Government, we want to build on the achievements of the past to ensure a progressive, successful, confident, flourishing and sustainable Scotland for our young people. We want our children and young people not only to be inspired by the remarkable achievements of their own people but to be knowledgeable about things that were done wrongly or mistakes that were made, including the Darien venture. After all, people learn from previous experience. We want everyone to be moved and motivated to play an active part in this success story so that, as Elaine Murray pointed out, our young people can become the engineers, scientists and historians of the future.

Thanks to the Government's lead, we are helping young people to understand Scotland's place in the world and where they come from, and we are giving them the confidence, enthusiasm and inspiration to write the next chapter of Scotland's history.

I am happy to support the motion.