Category Archives: literature

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 .

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:


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.

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.

ASLS Schools Conference, 1/10/16

A healthy number of SATE members and friends attended the annual Association for Scottish Literary Studies conference, a veteran highlight of the CPD calendar.  ASLS is a fantastic organisation that has for decades been highly influential in promoting Scottish writing, both in and outwith schools.  You can join the ASLS here:  ASLS .

An excellent day was had by all.  Here are some thoughts and reflections.

Kerri-Anne Campbell, SATE student member trick

It was a pleasure to be part of the annual ASLS School’s Conference on October 1st 2016. Writers of the past, present and future were celebrated. Engaging, passionate speakers offered fresh perspectives on classic and contemporary Scottish literature and provided insights into engaging young learners with such texts in the classroom.

It was an autumnal Saturday spent chatting to fellow student teachers and literature enthusiasts. Lots of useful resources were provided and lunch was pretty good too!

As a PGDE student from Northern Ireland, the discussion of the languages of Scotland was particularly interesting as it was something I knew very little about before moving to Glasgow.

I have realised that teaching Scottish literature to young learners is not necessarily a simple task. The conference introduced me to teaching challenging Scottish texts, from Walter Scott’s short stories to Janice Galloway’s novels including ‘The Trick is to Keep Breathing.’ Each of these texts present potential obstacles in their own way however, the conference has inspired me as an English teacher to embrace such challenges.

I left the ASLS conference with a greater understanding and appreciation of Scotland’s history and literary culture and a long list of new Scottish novels I can’t wait to start using in my classroom.

Jane Wilson, SATE Committee member

Our phones and PCs give us access to a wealth of resources and information on just about anything. As English teachers, we teach about bias and identifying quality sources. Even so, sorting through the chaff to access the kernels of useful information takes time.

For the second year running, I attended the ASLS Conference.  It is my annual shortcut to high quality understanding of Scottish texts. (Being Canadian, I was raised in a different literary landscape.) The opportunity to hear from curriculum experts on specific set texts gives you new insight. Whether you are staring at a text for the first or looking it over for the 1000th, hearing someone else’s considered perspective rends it fresh and relevant.

The internet also provides global access to information; the ASLS conference narrows the focus to Scottish. Scottish texts as understood by Scottish teachers of English. On the day we delved into the works of James Robertson, ‘Men Should Weep’, ‘The Trick is to keep Breathing’, a fabulous round up of Scottish fiction for the BGE, introducing Walter Scott to the BGE…. It was resource-tastic both inside and out. Free teaching resources, discounted Scot Notes, literary magazine, posters (SATE lapel badges!) and delicious scran. I came last year out of interest. I returned this year for the quality of content and resources.

Rowan Climie, English Teacher, Queen Margaret Academy, Ayr

This was the third year I have attended the ASLS School’s Conference and, again, it was both an enjoyable and thogideonmack2007ught-provoking experience.

As always, a wide variety of texts were considered, ranging from Walter Scott to Janice Galloway.  Each speaker conveyed their enthusiasm and passion clearly , delivering not only thorough and original papers on their chosen text but also addressing how these texts can be used successfully within the context of the classroom.  Dr. Gillian Sargent discussed the challenges of teaching Galloway’s text and offered practical advice on how these can be overcome and   Alison Lumsden explored ways  in which Scott’s texts can be used as a stimulus for a range of creative writing activities.

In addition to the excellent speakers, we were treated to a celebration of work from writers of the future as the presentations were made for the Young Writer’s Award.

Overall, a great event which provided  both practical advice and aimed to excite the our enthusiasm for the wealth of Scottish literature available to us and our pupils.

Colin Bain, English Teacher, Ellon Academy, Aberdeenshire

Having been teaching for three years, I have come to realise how important it is to share and receive the expertise of others to continue to grow and develop practice as a teacher.  The ASLS School’s Conference on October 1st came highly recommended to me, and did not disappoint.  This conference provided an entertaining and insightful look into important works of Scottish Literature and, more importantly, brought life to the teaching of these texts.

A rich mix of material was provided, addressing the need for clear and strong material and approaches for both National 5 and Higher.  ‘The Testament of Gideon Mack’, ‘The Trick is to Keep Breathing’, and ‘Men Should Weep’ were all explored in a way that showed an understanding that whilst exams are an important part of the process and progress of a student’s learning, they are not the sole reason for which these texts were created.  I certainly wish to (re)read these without my teacher hat on.

The richness of the Scots language, and the power that it has in the classroom was made clear, and the use of well chosen literature can really inspire and engage pupils.  A portion of the day was given over to the Dictionary of the Scots Language, and their endless work documenting and formalising the state of our language was inspiring.  Also, a great look into the up-and-coming work being published right now, including a power of work on Scottish Graphic Novels and Picture Books.

As I sat on the train on the way back to Aberdeen, bag filled with new resources and books (I’m a sucker for a book stall) I found myself inspired.  I know a little bit more than I did before, some of it about the ‘old stuff’, and some of it about the ‘new’. Here’s tae ye, ASLS, for the conference – hopefully get the chance to attend in the future. See ye after.




Building a Bridge through Books

This is a revised version of a post first published in January 2013, linking to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s theme that year of communities working together to ‘build a bridge’.

Image taken from the cover of 'Once' by Morris Gleitzman, published by Puffin. You can find out more about the book here:
Image taken from the cover of ‘Once’ by Morris Gleitzman, published by Puffin. You can find out more about the book here:

Planning for the forthcoming SATE seminar on Teaching the Holocaust through Literature in September 2016, I recalled a blog post I’d written in 2013 where I’d discussed my experiences of working with pupils in the Broad General Education using fictional accounts of the Holocaust. This followed on from a trip to Amsterdam with my then seven year old daughter where we visited the Anne Frank House. I’m hoping September’s SATE seminar will provide the opportunity to discuss some of the issues mentioned here, both about fictional accounts and age appropriateness of texts.


Sunday 27 January marks Holocaust Memorial Day in the UK. It is a date now part of many schools’ calendars with commemorative assemblies, projects, visits and presentations taking place. I’ve actively supported HMD since it began in 2001 and this year, my S1 book club will commemorate the date by meeting to discuss our feelings and reactions to a book we have all been reading in our own time over the last four weeks. It’s ‘Once’ by Morris Gleitzman, the first of five books about Felix, a Jewish boy who we meet in Poland in 1942.  When copies of ‘Once’ were handed out to the group, we spent our meeting listening to one of the school’s Religious Studies teachers telling us a bit about the background to the Holocaust. Giving the pupils this information was important, and at meetings since, pupils (and staff) have been discussing little snippets to do with the book, not about plot or character, but about how we are feeling when reading it. We will meet up this week to have our discussion, to talk about the book, its wider context and the continued relevance of the subject matter. I’ve done this a number of times since 2001 and have continually been amazed at the reaction of pupils and how insightful their discussion has been especially as they are committing to a novel to read for pleasure, in their own time.

Stepping back into the classroom, this got me thinking about how English teachers teach the Holocaust through literature and mainly within the BGE. The most common titles in my experience, particularly in the lower school, are ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’, Ian Serailler’s ‘The Silver Sword’, Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief, also a film, and John Boyne’s ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’. The latter is also taught separately as a film text using the 2008 film directed by Mark Herman. It has been a privilege to work with pupils on many of these texts, to support and encourage discussion and try to come to a shared understanding that the horrors unfolding on the page or on the screen are not confined to the past. All these texts give voice to young people and that resonates strongly with pupils. Another such novel for this age group I’d recommend is ‘Emil and Karl’ by Yankev Glatshteyn, originally published in Yiddish in 1938 and which chillingly imagines some of the horrors which were to become a terrible reality.

I know of one instance where a teacher had to provide a single pupil with separate work whilst the rest of the class studied ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’. A parent had been concerned their child was ‘too young’ to deal with the horrors discussed. This got me thinking about what the ‘best’ age is for a subject of this nature and whether protecting or shielding young people is the ‘right’ thing to do. I recently spent a long weekend in Amsterdam with my seven-year-old and initially decided not to visit Anne Frank’s house on the basis that my daughter was ‘too young’. We did visit but I did my homework first, using the museum’s website as a guide to age appropriateness. We avoided the introductory video footage and a large part of the museum’s photographs at the end. Together, we had many discussions, both before and after visiting. At seven, I do feel she’s too young for the aforementioned books but I will suggest in time that she reads them or perhaps that we do together.

I don’t believe in censoring children’s reading but the issue of Holocaust texts being studied in the primary classroom also doesn’t sit comfortably with me. This is a discussion I want to have with other teachers, to decide if my view (from a professional secondary slant combined with being a parent of a primary-age child) is justified. My unease first came about when I heard of Art Spiegelman’s ‘Maus’ being used in a primary school but many pupils coming into S1 will talk of having worked with ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ during their upper years in primary school. Admittedly, the simplicity in narrative and structure of both Boyne and Gleitzman’s children’s novels mask the issues underneath. The central characters are young with an innocent naiveté that adds humour. But there’s another ongoing debate here as to whether a contemporary young adult and children’s fiction centre around the Holocaust is appropriate.  John Boyne certainly found this, writing as an author who was ‘relatively young … who isn’t Jewish and wasn’t there’ (The Guardian 29.11.10).  These issues trouble me and I don’t have answers that soothe this unease. I just know that, as humans, with our love of stories, these fictional accounts are important tools in helping future generations connect with a period that should never be forgotten

So back to ‘Once’. I will read it this week for what I think will be about the 12th time. I look forward to discussing my reading of it with pupils and other staff, all of whom are coming to it new, and seeing it afresh through their eyes.

Susan Brownlie

For further information on how to attend SATE’s Teaching the Holocaust through Literature twilight seminar on Wednesday 21st September 2016, please see

 The seminar is being led by The Holocaust Education Trust.  You can find out about their work here: 

Susan Brownlie is SATE Local Authority Coordinator for South Lanarkshire.  Any views expressed here are her own, not those of her employer or SATE.




SATE Seminar: Teaching the Holocaust through literature

12418089_1013105888730920_4606222812187926593_nEvent Details

In partnership with The University of Strathclyde and the Holocaust Educational Trust

The Holocaust was a defining event in human history and there is no doubt that studying it through literature can help students think critically about the world around them and their place in it, through the discussion of a range of questions about what it means to be human. The use of fiction and non-fiction prose, poetry and drama texts allows English teachers to enrich pupils’ learning as they begin to reflect critically on issues of identity, behaviour and ethics.

Learning about the Holocaust encourages pupils to confront fundamental yet challenging questions which cut across academic disciplines, and it is here where English has a specific role to play. In teaching texts exploring the Holocaust, it is essential English practitioners are secure in their own historical knowledge and understanding to ensure learners are supported as they study Holocaust-related literature. In our shared responsibility in helping all learners develop skills and attributes in line with the Four capacities, this seminar will allow English teachers to collaborate with other subject specialists, for example in schools’ commemorations of Holocaust Memorial Day on the 27th of January each year.

This short seminar will focus on the pedagogical issues surrounding Holocaust education. It will also provide English practitioners with the opportunity to update their own subject knowledge and build confidence in teaching the Holocaust through literature.


The seminar will be led by a lead educator from the Holocaust Educational Trust. The Trust’s aim is to educate young people from every background about the Holocaust and the important lessons to be learned for today.


Wednesday 21 September 2016 from 17:00 to 19:00


Please note that the seminar will now be held in Room 554 of the  Graham Hills Building,  University of Strathclyde


£10 for NATE members, £15 for non-members. There’s also a limited number of free places available for Student Teachers.

Sign up here:

For further information, please contact Susan Brownlie: