Scots in the Scottish Curriculum

Post by Adam Scott Clark

Scots is a language variety spoken in the Scottish Lowlands and in Northern Ireland. It is generally known in Scotland as Lowland Scots, to distinguish it from Scottish Gaelic, and Ulster Scots in Northern Ireland, to distinguish it from the variety spoken in Scotland. As it is difficult (likely impossible) to classify a language variety as a ‘language’ in its own right or a ‘dialect’ of another language, there has been some debate over whether Scots is a language or a variety of English. Whether a language variety possesses the status of language or of dialect is very often not a matter of linguistics but rather one of politics – consider for instance Danish and Norwegian, two very closely (and usually mutually intelligible) ‘languages’ that are considered ‘languages’ based on their association with independent and sovereign states and not based on their linguistic characteristics. If we consider Romanian and Moldovan, the issues over what constitutes a ‘language’ or a ‘dialect’ becomes even more apparent.

This post looks at how Scots is used in the Scottish curriculum, regardless of whether it is considered a ‘language’ or a ‘dialect.’ The Scottish Government’s Curriculum for Excellence “recognises Scots as being an integral part of the curriculum” and notes that “Scots adds to Scotland’s rich diversity of language and can help develop and improve literacy skills.” This sounds great, but how is Scots used within the Scottish curriculum, considering it is not generally an examined subject within the Scottish Qualifications Association framework?

John Hodgart, a former English teacher and a member of the Scottish Government’s working group on Scottish Studies gave a presentation in Musselburgh in 2011 on the place of Scots in the Scottish Curriculum. Hodgart notes that within Scottish schools there is traditionally some resistance to the idea of utilising Scots as a linguistic resource for children:

No lang afore I retired, twa year syne, I heard a wean bein giein a row for jist sayin ‘ay,’ an then in Nov (2009) I heard a final year drama student at the RSAMD in Glesca tellin us how he wis brocht up tae speak Scots at hame but it wis ‘beltit oot o him’ bi his teachers in the Borders!

Not long before I retired, two years before, I heard a child being told off just for saying “aye”, and then in Nov (2009) I heard a final year drama student at the RSAMD in Glasgow telling us how he was brought up to speak Scots at home, but it was ‘belted out of him’ by his teachers in the Borders! (Translation by Blog Contributor)

The experience of being told to ‘speak properly’ is a common experience for children all over the world, not just in Scotland, that stigmatises the home language and instils in children a fear of using their home language in formal settings and promotes a prescriptive idea of language. Despite the continuing resistance to using Scots within schools, there have been moves to increase the use of Scots within the Scottish curriculum – both within the primary and secondary curricula.

The 1 + 2 Policy, which encourages schools in Scotland to expose children to two languages in addition to English is commonly used to teach world languages, though some schools are opting instead to teach languages a little closer to home – Scottish Gaelic and Scots. Education Scotland, in line with the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, also recognises that Scots is a minority language that needs to be supported. As such, Education Scotland encourages the utilisation of Scots as a language of the classroom and several resources have been created specifically to encourage the use of Scots in Scottish schools. The Scottish Government and Education Scotland launched the Scots Language Policy in 2015, which aims to support and encourage the use of Scots, as well as provide practical guidance for schools on how to use Scots in the classroom.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority recently launched a Scots Language Award, which allows learners to study the development of the Scots language and learn how to better communicate in Scots. I contacted the SQA in June of this year to enquire about the availability of the qualification and so far, it seems that it is only offered by one school in the country. I certainly hope that this subject is offered on a larger scale soon.

There is certainly recognition that Scots is something that should be embraced within the curriculum and to varying extents, this is happening. There is however evidence that the use of Scots in the classroom is still somewhat restricted to ‘token Scottish moments’ – reciting the poetry of Robert Burns, celebrating St Andrews Day, etc. I hope that there will come a time when it is recognised that a child’s linguistic repertoire, regardless of the language varieties they speak, is embraced within the curriculum and nurtured so that children grow up recognising the value of being able to speak ‘in more than one way’.


Creative Scotland, Scots Leid Policie. (Accessed August 24th, 2017)

Education Scotland, Languages in the Curriculum for Excellence. (Accessed August 24th, 2017)

Scottish Government, Gaelic and Scots. (Accessed August 24th, 2017)

Scots Language Centre, Scots language and the Curriculum for Excellence. (Accessed August 24th, 2017)

Scottish Qualifications Authority, Scots Language Award. (Accessed August 24th, 2017)

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