Responsibility for the development of the new qualifications, including the implementation of a specific element on Scottish texts in the English courses, lies with the Scottish Qualifications Authority. In determining the list of set Scottish texts, the SQA took account of the extensive feedback that had been received through engagement with teachers and lecturers, as well as other stakeholder groups. A central consideration was the suitability of texts for assessment purposes. Further consideration was given to ensuring that Scotland’s rich culture and heritage, a range of geographical locations and time periods, and a breadth of themes were represented.
In the past, higher English texts included such classics as “Ivanhoe” by Sir Walter Scott, “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” by Muriel Spark and Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”. Are there any plans to broaden the choice of texts to include such works, which although they are challenging were once commonly used in our schools?
I should perhaps first say that, despite some press speculation, I did not set the exam questions personally. The SQA does that, for good reasons.
It is important to say that we are talking about one question in the new exams. The option exists for people to answer any of the other questions—for the critical essay, for instance, or for internal assessment—on any text, be it a Scottish text or a text from anywhere around the world. There is certainly the opportunity, if teachers are willing, to teach and examine the texts to which Kenneth Gibson refers.
The specified text is being introduced in the exam papers first because the Scottish studies working group thought that it was rather unusual that any country would think it normal for its national literature not to feature, as a matter of course, in a literature exam—as it does in Wales, in Ireland, in America and, by default, because it does not need to be specified, in England. With advice from people such as the national makar—our national poet—and many others, that was felt to be an uncontroversial thing to do, except in some paranoid circles.