5 reasons to teach Scots in schools

A wall display of Scots work from a classroom

Scots Hoose, a brand new schools website dedicated to reading and writing in Scots, was recently launched to great acclaim by Scotland's teaching community. The website has been created by author Matthew Fitt, who has been a pivotal force behind greater exposure to Scots for pupils and increased provision of Scots resources for teachers. To mark the occasion, we asked Diane Anderson, a Scots Language Coordinator with Education Scotland, to share her views on how Scots can enrich any classroom.

I was one of 1.5 million people who reported that they use the Scots language in the 2011 census. Scots is commonly used in everyday speech, in literature and in song. It is used in the workplace and in the home. Occasionally, Scots is used in public or for broadcasting. Yet its use was actively discouraged in education for many years, something which has taken time to overcome.

There are five good reasons to encourage the use of Scots in schools:


It develops transferrable skills in language learning

By studying Scots, we show respect for those 1.5 million people who confidently identified themselves as Scots users in the last census. In addition we are valuing the language skills of those many thousands of children who bring Scots to school. 

Research has shown that pupils will be more successful in the acquisition and correct use of English if they are secure in the use of their first language. Teaching any language has a complex set of benefits, and Scots is no different. It provides the learner with a transferable set of linguistic skills which can be applied to the study of English and other languages.

It gives pupils the confidence to contribute and express themselves

For Scots speakers, studying Scots develops linguistic confidence, providing learners with the opportunity to freely express themselves in their mother tongue. Identity and a sense of self-worth and citizenship can be fostered for all pupils, speakers and learners alike, through the study of Scots.

Famous writers who have used Scots include Robert Burns and Hugh MacDiarmid. William Laughton Lorimer’s Scots translation of the New Testament was published in 1983. Among the more recent Scots writers are Billy Kay, James Kelman, Tom Leonard, Liz Lochhead, Edwin Morgan, Liz Niven, Sheena Blackhall, Rab Wilson and, recently appointed Edinburgh Makar, Christine De Luca. We want future generations of Scots people to appreciate the literature of their native country.

It helps pupils to appreciate Scotland's heritage

Curriculum for Excellence states clearly that all learners should have the opportunity to study Scotland’s languages and culture. Studying Scots enables schools to acknowledge and celebrate the linguistic and cultural heritage of their pupils and the land in which they are growing up.

The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (1992) has been ratified by the U.K. Government, and Scots is therefore afforded special protection and promotion within the United Kingdom.

It has long been recognised that minority languages which are not defended will die out. The Scottish Government has stated categorically that all dialects of Scots are equally valid and that each needs to be preserved along with its distinctive identity. It is our responsibility to protect our native language. 

It helps create effective contributors

Tourism and the creative industries could benefit from the value placed on Scots through the coherent planning and delivery of Scots language learning in schools. In addition, Scots is currently recognised and used in the Scottish parliament – with some MSPs choosing to be sworn in using Scots, and also featuring on the Scottish Government website – and there is a growing call for Scots to once again feature in a more prominent way in Scotland’s other institutions. Far from being a parochial step, teaching Scots provides the opportunity for Scotland to produce confident players on the world stage, secure in their linguistic and cultural heritage, and aware of their place in Europe and beyond. 

It's fun!

Learners love lessons which feature Scots. It is different, unexpected and can feel “edgy”. It can help those with English as a second language to feel more valued, with all languages spoken in the class being considered together. And it can be a way back in for those who have felt alienated in school – the reluctant learners who have felt that that literacy is not really for them.

In short: introduce Scots into your classroom today. It his an afa lot gaan fir it!

Read about the Scottish Book Trust's policy towards the Scots language and discover how to introduce Scots in the classroom.

We have some great lists of Scots books for teens, for 8-11 year olds and 3-7 year olds.  

Diane Anderson

Diane Anderson is a Scots Language Coordinator for Education Scotland.