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Why teach Scots?

Insights from our survey of teachers who regularly use the Scots language in their classroom

Last updated: 23 May 2024

Children sit at white desks in classroom with noticeboards behind them

In early 2024, Scottish Book Trust surveyed primary and secondary teachers across Scotland who use Scots regularly in their classrooms. Across the board, these teachers highlighted the importance of allowing students to read books, write creatively and communicate in Scots. But why is teaching Scots so beneficial for pupils? Here’s what the teachers had to say.

Engagement and wellbeing

It’s no secret that enjoyment in the classroom makes for more engaged learners, and evidence from teachers suggests that engaging with Scots in lessons can be a fun and exciting pursuit for learners. 95% of the teachers who took part in our survey agreed that their pupils engaged well with Scots activities in class, and 67% noted that partaking in Scots lessons led to an increased eagerness towards classroom work in their pupils. This seems particularly pronounced in pupils for whom classroom learning can be difficult, as 80% of respondents believed that Scots activities in the classroom prompted increased engagement from otherwise disengaged learners.

These improvements in pupil engagement in the classroom also have a tangible impact on how good children feel about going to school. Over half of the teachers we spoke to stated that teaching Scots had led to improvements in overall pupil wellbeing and resilience, and 80% believed it had resulted in improved self-esteem among learners. It seems that introducing Scots into your classroom can help in building pupil’s confidence in themselves and their abilities.

Building confidence

80% of teachers we spoke to believed that pupils who struggled in other areas of work responded well to Scots activities in the classroom. One teacher pointed out that Scots lessons can often radically alter the dynamic in some classrooms, with certain pupils becoming the most skilled in class for the first time in their school careers. 

Allowing children to communicate and work in the language they use at home can additionally transform their relationship towards that work. Over half of the teachers we spoke to noticed a marked improvement in the quality and length of written work produced by certain pupils when allowed to write in Scots. This suggests that some pupils draw more confidence from communicating in Scots as opposed to English. 

Crafting community

Whilst we often assume that the children who benefit the most from Scots language education are those who use the language at home, this isn’t necessarily the case. Scottish classrooms today are diverse locations, where learners come from all kinds of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Teaching Scots can have a profound impact on the communal identity of the class, as it creates an equality of opportunity for learners from diverging linguistic backgrounds.

For instance, over half of the teachers we spoke to felt that pupils who spoke English as an additional language responded particularly well to Scots language lessons. As our article on Scots and bilingualism pointed out, Scots lessons can also be used as a starting point for exploring the different cultures and languages that are present in the classroom, which helps to forge a stronger sense of community amongst learners. 76% of the teachers we spoke to stated that engaging with Scots in the classroom had led to an improved sense of classroom community.

Notably, 75% of teachers also said that using Scots in the classroom fostered an increased understanding in pupils of their place in their local community. Teaching Scots can give learners a better sense of their national and cultural heritage, but it can also help them to forge stronger linguistic links with older family members and the wider community.

Additionally, teaching Scots in schools need not be confined to the classroom. Many of the schools we surveyed used Scots as an opportunity to form links outside the school itself; for example, through involvement with the Doric Film Festival, combining poetry lessons with visits to Historic Environment Scotland sites(this link will open in a new window), and visiting the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum(this link will open in a new window). Not only can the Scots language provide opportunities for dynamic classroom teaching, but it can also be used to encourage pupils to develop an interest in local historic landmarks, cultural organisations, and libraries. Why not give it a try?

Looking to the future

81% of teachers who we spoke to believed that Scots language education was an important aspect of helping to prepare children for the future. Scots plays an important role in Scotland’s tourism and creative industries, and the upcoming Scottish Languages Bill(this link will open in a new window) is likely to further increase the visibility of the Scots language in Scottish public life. Developing children’s understanding of their linguistic and cultural heritage plays a vital role in helping to prepare them for life beyond school.

Moreover, 71% of teachers also reported that engaging with Scots in the classroom led to improved reading skills in pupils. No one is likely to deny that reading is a vital skill for children to develop, as it opens countless doors in work, further education and, importantly, wellbeing. Allowing pupils to engage with books in ways which make sense to them, like through Scots, can help to develop a lifelong love of reading, which we at Scottish Book Trust believe can never be a bad thing!