SQA updates Scottish Texts List for National 5 and Higher English

Katie Lane reports on the SQA updates for Teaching English, NATE’s classroom practice magazine.  You can read Teaching English by joining NATE, which gives full access to the magazine and its companion research journal, English in Education, as well as a huge array of other resources.  Find out more at https://www.nate.org.uk/ .

The Scottish Qualifications Agency (SQA) has published an update of the Scottish Text List for National 5 and Higher English (roughly equivalent to GCSE and A Level in the rest of the UK.) All students on  both courses must study at least one of these texts during the course, and questions on this text make up20% of their overall final mark.  Following the revision of National and Higher courses in 2013,   Scottish Set Texts became a compulsory part of the Critical Reading component of the exam. A consultation took place in order to determine what should go on the list, and it was decided to refresh the list every three years. Some texts are set for National 5, some for Higher, and some as ‘crossover’ texts for both.


Following a consultation on the review of the list, there are few changes. The novels Kidnapped and The Trick is to Keep Breathing have been removed and replaced by Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as an additional crossover text. The number of short stories to be studied, if chosen, has been reduced to four. In addition, two poems in each set of six has been changed.  To allow teachers time to prepare these changes will take place in the academic year 2018/2019. More information can be found at: www.sqa.org.uk/sqa/45672.html.


The updated list for National 5 contains plays by Rona Munro, Alan Spence, Ann Marie di Mambro,  short stories by Anne Donovan, the novel The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson, and poems by Edwin Morgan and Jackie Kay.  The updated list for Higher contains plays by John McGrath, Ena Lamont Stewart and John Byrne, short stories by George Mackay Brown, the novel Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, and poems by Sorley Maclean, Don Paterson, Liz Lochhead and Robert Burns. Crossover texts, available for both National 5 and Higher, are short stories by Iain Crichton Smith, the novels The Cone Gatherers by Robin Jenkins and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, and poems by Carol Ann Duffy and Norman MacCaig.


The structure of Scottish English courses at National 5 and Higher level is significantly different from equivalents in England and the rest of the UK. For both exams, students study a combined language and literature course. In the Critical Reading component of the course, students must answer on one Scottish literary set text, but otherwise teachers have a free choice of English literary texts to teach, and these can include not only prose fiction, poetry and drama, but also prose non-fiction, and film and television drama. Alternatively, students can choose to answer a language question. The questions are generic questions about the genre chosen. Not every text that is studied on the course is assessed in the examination.


Katie Lane is a Teacher of English at St Margaret’s High School in Airdrie, and is SATE Local Coordinator for North Lanarkshire.

‘Lysander, gonnae decide who yer lassie is?’: Utilising Learners’ Own Language for the Teaching of Shakespeare

Amy Douglas, a teacher of English at Tynecastle High School, writes about a project she undertook while a student at All Saint’s Secondary for Teaching English, NATE’s classroom practice magazine.  You can read Teaching English by joining NATE, which gives full access to the magazine and its companion research journal, English in Education, as well as a huge array of other resources.  Find out more at https://www.nate.org.uk/ .


During my third placement as a student English teacher, I took over teaching a top-set first year class who were halfway through studying Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The class (and their fantastic class teacher from whom I learnt a great deal) impressed me with how well they coped with studying the play at a relatively fast pace. However, my impression was that the play’s unfamiliar Shakespearean language had the pupils focussing all their efforts on following the plot. With a great deal of support from their class teacher, I agreed that I would spend the short time I had with the class on a ‘fun’ activity adapting the Act 3, Scene 2 fight between the four lovers, hoping that this would foster some appreciation for the play’s drama and comedy.  I encouraged the class to create dramatic adaptations of the dialogue in language more natural to them, placing particular emphasis on the Scots language that many of the learners brought to the classroom.

It was my hope that they would take from this series of lessons: enjoyment of the comedy of the fight scene; greater confidence when approaching and discussing Shakespearean language; and a deeper understanding of the heritage and value of Scots language.

Why Scots?

The Scottish Government has directed teachers delivering Broad General Education to ‘build upon the diversity of language represented within the communities of Scotland’ (Scottish Government).

However, placing value on the language that learners bring to school is not merely a curricular necessity, but a pre-requisite when learners are to be encouraged to react to literature critically. Paulo Freire has criticised the ‘banking’ model of education as one in which ‘knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing’. It is right that the Scots language that pupils bring to the classroom be recognised not as something to be corrected, but as a specific and valuable resource. The requirement for the protection of Scots language is currently safeguarded by the European Parliament, which recognises Scots as one of the minority languages of the UK alongside Manx Gaelic, Gaelic and Cornish. Amid current political uncertainty over Scotland’s continuing EU status, I would argue that there is an increased need for Scotland’s teachers to utilise their unique position to ensure that Scots language remains respected and defended

Unfortunately this has not been the historical experience in Scotland’s classrooms: as ‘English was legitimated as the language of education’ (Shoba), Scots was effectively devalued as a language not worth learning in or about. ‘Scots and English have therefore not developed on any basis of sociolinguistic equality’ (Shoba). The ‘correct’ spoken language that the teacher brought to the classroom was the only valued – or even permitted – form of communication, and any input from a learner given in Scots dialect was dismissed, their classroom voice devalued.

When looking at these damaging attitudes, implications for the socio-economic attainment gap that remains a significant problem for young people in Scotland’s schools (Ellis & Sosu) cannot be ignored.  A 2010 Scottish Government survey confirmed that the proportion of those living in Scotland who identify as using Scots language specifically as part of their spoken language is highest in lower socio-economic groups, with 87% of those in the lowest-earning quarter of the survey’s participants claiming to speak some amount of Scots. Given the academic evidence that pupils who do not primarily speak in standard English tend to perform more poorly that their peers (Strachan), it is fair to assume that dismissal of Scots-language voices in the classroom may be particularly damaging to learners from lower income backgrounds.

The Lessons

I initiated discussion of the Scots language by projecting a selection of Scots words onto the board. These words ranged from those I knew would be familiar to all the learners in the class (such as wee or aye) to slightly more obscure examples (such as oxter, glaikit or dreich). I asked the learners to work cooperatively in pairs to find how many of the words they knew the meaning of, and how many more they could add to the selection. This initial task elicited an enthusiastic response, and highlighted the Scots language knowledge the pupils already possessed.

The class then moved on to view Education Scotland’s video on the history of Scots language from the Middle Ages to the present. I feel this video demonstrates convincingly that Scots developed not as a corrupted form of English, but a language with its own unique history, grammar rules and literature. I asked learners to, following our discussion of their opinions towards Scots words, take note of any information in the video that surprised them. Discussion centred around surprise at the age of the Scots language (with some learners previously holding the misconception that it was modern phenomenon growing out of Standard English) and shock that modern Scots had developed from a language respected enough to be used by kings, queens and courts – a telling sign of the sense of inferiority that pervades attitudes towards Scots (Stobo; McPake & Arthur).

For the translation task itself, I divided the lovers’ fight into six different extracts of around fifty lines each, and added word-banks with translations of the more obscure vocabulary and phrases. Groups then worked cooperatively (over the course of four 37.5 minute lessons), first to establish and discuss Shakespeare’s original meaning, then to write and perform their own adaptation in language more familiar to them.

Outcome on Pupil Learning

Perhaps the least successfully realised learning intention was the existence of Scots as an independent language. This was to some extent attributable to the fact that I did not insist on strict Scots translations. I made this decision partially to avoid spending too much class time on defining what words can and cannot be counted as Scots, and also for fear of excluding ESOL pupils in the class for whom much of Scots may be somewhat alien. The intention was to move Shakespeare into a more familiar space for each learner. Whilst most groups wrote scripts making significant use of Scots, a few translated their extracts into general colloquial dialect. Were I to teach this series of lessons again, I would allow online access to Scots language resources, such as the ‘Dictionar o the Scots Leid’, to add legitimacy to words pupils were sometimes uncertain to use in their adaptations, and indeed to the existence of Scots as a language in its own right.

I was more satisfied that my intention that the class gain greater appreciation for the comedy of the play was met. I believe this came from allowing learners to utilise the language they would naturally use to write jokes, as well as the task itself heightening awareness of the role performance plays in comedy. Both these factors were apparent in one group’s decision to add their own stage direction for Lysander to make a ‘boaking action’ (Scots for vomiting) at the sight of poor Hermia.

Overall I felt the most positive outcome of the lessons was significant improvement in the learners’ confidence and ability to understand and adapt Shakespeare’s language. The group tackling Helena’s speech, for example, were faced with a significant length of challenging Shakespearean dialogue:

‘Our friendship in our schooldays, our childhood innocence? We used to sit together and sew one flower with our two needles, sewing it on one piece of cloth, sitting on the same cushion, singing one song in the same key, as if our hands, our sides, our voices and our minds were stuck together. We grew together like twin cherries—which seemed to be separate but were also together—two lovely cherries on one stem.’

The group, with very limited teacher input, worked cooperatively to create an impressive adaptation:

‘We were such good friends in Primary we even went on that double date to Burger King. Then one thing led to another and we were leaving High School. We’ve been so close like two peas in a pod and now we’ve fallen out over stupid boys. Or like two Irn Bru cans in a pack. But now the packs been opened.’

I was struck by the sophisticated level of understanding here: demonstrating comprehension of the playwright’s choice of activities as a portrayal of two young girls growing up together and relating it in a comical way to contemporary experiences of young female friendship; furthermore it recognises and shows command of literary techniques, with their funny and astute re-imagining of the ‘twin cherries’ simile. The effects of this agency the students had gained over the play were notable in subsequent lessons – class discussion improved in quality, with a particularly interesting conversation on whether or not the pupils felt sympathy for the lovers clearly influenced by their impressive understanding of Act 3, Scene 2. I believe by engaging with and ascribing value to the learners’ own linguistic and emotional experiences, they were empowered to enjoy and find humour in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

World Book Day: Celebrations Across The School

Lewis James McPartlin, an S1 pupil at St Andrews’ and St Bride’s High School in East Kilbride, reflects on how his school celebrated World Book Day this year.

St Andrew’s and St Bride’s S1 choose David Walliams in 2017 survey

Every year, St Andrew’s and St Bride’s High School conducts a survey to find the most admired children’s author in S1.  In 2017 the favourites were: in 3rd place, ‘Harry Potter’ author JK Rowling; in 2nd place, creative genius Roald Dahl; and in 1st place, funny man David Walliams.

The winners were decided by a popular vote that all first year pupils took part in by writing down their current favourite three authors. These three acclaimed writers have remained strong favourites throughout the years, as shown in previous survey results.

The full results revealed that there was a wide variety of genres voted for, including horror, fantasy, real life, humour, mystery, adventure and dystopian fiction. Overall, there were over 50 authors mentioned.  Last year’s favourite author, Jeff Kinney, has quite obviously fallen out of favour with first year pupils, as he has dropped down to 5th place.  Suzanne Collins, famous for ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy, has been knocked off the leader board completely by James Dashner, dystopian creator of ‘The Maze Runner’ series.  Teachers were pleased to see names such as John Green (‘The Fault in Our Stars’), Charlie Higson (‘Young Bond’ series and ‘The Enemy’ series) and Michael Grant (‘Gone’ series) appear as their books are aimed at older readers.  Authors such as Lemony Snicket and Charles Dickens have appeared to resurface in popularity, perhaps because their famed books have recently been produced into both movies and a television series (‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’); the same is implied with the ‘Maze Runner’ books. This suggests that perhaps watching film adaptations inspires children to go and read the original story. Speaking to teachers, they are happy with this tactic, as long as it gets kids reading!

Reading is important as it helps build your vocabulary, become more intelligent and perceptive of the world around you.  It develops and unlocks a more diverse world of imagination, and encourages others to write about themselves. Professor Ellis, from the University of Strathclyde, believes that ‘reading shapes the sort of society we live in.’ She also believes it’s ‘fundamental for employability in nearly all sectors of the modern job market.’ Reading is in no way exclusive to English as a subject; it branches out to every aspect of our lives. As Professor Ellis clearly states, it is vital to society and our lives: there will never be a time when reading is not a useful skill to have.

Mrs Lyon, Principal Teacher of English: ‘It comes as no surprise that our pupils love the work of Rowling, Dahl and Walliams. We see them reading these books with voracious appetites. Such a wide range of authors on the list reflects growing interest and engagement with reading across year groups. Long may it continue!’

Mrs Mullen, Headteacher, agrees stating that: “seeing that so many of our pupils are engaging with and enjoying reading is tremendous.  Reading expands our vocabulary and improves our spelling and writing skills, it helps to enhance     our thinking and analytical skills increasing our general knowledge and understanding of the world around us.    It also helps to improve our focus, concentration and memory skills but most of all allows us to take some time for ourselves.  Reading is a great stress buster and there’s nothing better than taking time to ‘lose ourselves’ in a good book.  World Book Day helps us to highlight these benefits and gives us the chance to enjoy and celebrate our favourite books and authors.”

Events across the school marked World Book Day, from a whole period of ‘Drop Everything and Read’ for S1 – S3, to a special one-off menu provided by the catering team with literary references (Wonka’s Flappy Jacky Chocolate Madness, anyone?), and a scavenger hunt created by the school librarian. Drama also marked the celebrations with a special performance.

Twitter: @SASB_EnglishTop Tips for Parents to Help Your Child to Read

  1. Be a reader yourself and model reading in front of your child. It can be anything – newspapers, novels and (most) magazines. Children learn by example, so set a good one!
  2. Talk to your child about their reading. Ask questions about what’s happening in their stories, which characters they like and dislike, and what’s going to happen next. The possibilities are endless!
  3. Make your home a book-friendly environment. Make books as easily accessible for your child as possible. Make use of East Kilbride’s excellent libraries and book shop by signing your child up for a library card or taking them to speak to booksellers.
  4. Create a reading habit. Aim for a few nights a week where reading is the only activity allowed for half an hour. Put those tablets, consoles and smartphones away! Persist through any initial resistance: it will be worth it in the end!
  5. Browse for books that meet the passions of your child and let them choose. For every interest, there are at least a dozen books. Young Adult fiction is the most exciting it has ever been so get in there and experiment with as many genres as possible. All it takes is one book to spark a love of reading that will last a lifetime.
  6. Rewards can work well, especially in the short run. Setting up a system in your house that awards points or prizes for reading can be the kick-start that makes your child pick up a Penguin… Classic.

Yaisin Scots in the English Classroom

Laura Green is ain  English teacher an Scots Language Enthusiast workin fir West Lothian Cooncil. Ye can fun oot mair aboot her @fairpechtoot . Aw views are hur ain.


When Ah went fir the interview fir ma PGCE qualification at Strathclyde University, we hud tae gie a presentation. Ah decidit that Ah wid speak aboot something close ta ma ain hert – yaisin Scots the English classroom.

Ah mind talkin aboot how Ah wid yaise wan o Matthew Fitt’s poems (Ah think it was this wan here) an get the weans in the class tae ask their maws, das, grannies an grandads tae tell them o Scots words that they yaised. Ah suggestit that the weans wid respond well tae literature written in their ain leid.

Fast-furrit some thirteen years later an ma opinion husnae chynged. Ah regularly yaise literature written in Scots tae spark debate an inspire scrievin aboot personal experience, identity, setting, history an tradition. Ah yaise Scots tae teach Senior students shades o meaning an connotations; an find Scots awfy useful in teachin students how tae determine the meanin o a word yaisin context.

Scots is in ma classroom in August when Ah start teachin Alan Spence’s Sailmaker tae ma Nat 5 weans; at Halloween when ma BGE weans are listenin tae scary stories by Alan Bissett an ma Senior weans are learnin aboot the origins o the word guiser; in November when we’re participatin in the St Andrew’s Day Challenge; in January when ma BGE weans are keekin roon Rabbie Burns’ Hoose an ma Senior weans are comparin Burns’ Holy Willie’s Prayer an its condemnation o religious hypocrisy tae MacCaig’s Asissi; in the Spring when ma BGE weans are debatin the merits o usin Scots an ma Senior students are readin challengin Scots texts tae practice analysin the connotations o effective word choice.

So why place so much emphasis oan Scots? Whenever Ah start a new topic Ah aye ask the weans in front o me why they think Ah’m teachin it – ‘Whit’s the point?’ Ah say. Well – the English and Literacy Review, published by Education Scotland in 2015, states that:

Learning Scots can often improve learners’ engagement in learning and their development of wider literacy skills. Through Scots, learners can explore language in more depth, making connections and comparisons with the linguistic structures and vocabularies of other languages. Scots as a context for learning can also provide an engaging platform for children and young people to explore language, register and audience. It can encourage reluctant readers and writers to become involved as texts in Scots can capture the imagination and speak to them in a familiar voice.

Last October, when Ah asked ma class why they thoat we were learnin aboot the Scots Language, wan laddie put his haun up an said ‘Because we’re Scottish.’ That pretty much summed it up fir me. Fir English teachers, we are especially interestit in literacy skills – helpin the weans tae hone their skills in readin, scrievin, talkin an listenin. Indeed, Education is aw aboot literacy, numeracy, health an wellbeing. Part o that is celebratin tradition, identity an culture – no forgettin oor ain. Ensurin that the Scots leid has a place in the English curriculum helps us dae aw o the above an mair.