The Lowing School Report
17th December 2015
The Scots Language Centre has previously reported on research by Dr Karen A Lowing on Scots in the classroom. Karen Lowing began her research in 2010 in a study called ‘Ane Instruction for Bairnis to be Learnit in Scottis: A Study of Scots Language in the Scottish Secondary Classroom’. Lowing took as her subjects staff and pupils at two south western secondary schools and their attitudes to the use and place of the language within the schools. For anyone who has an interest in teaching Scots, or for whom social justice is important, then the Scots Language Centre highly recommends this important research.
Lowing begins with pointing to the virtual exclusion of Scots from schools in the late 19th and 20th centuries which she concludes created “...obstacles to learning and compromised Scots-speaking children’s self-confidence, agency and identity.” She found that there were divisions between those who were unsure about Scots and whether it should be taught, and those for whom it was an essential part of their expression and identity. Some staff recognised that there was a need to ‘re-educate’ themselves in Scots while others saw an urgent need for a Scots canon.
Perhaps the most important part of Lowing’s findings relate to the division between what she terms Heritage Scots and Modern Scots. Heritage Scots, the writings of Burns and the makars, for example, she tells us was widely felt to be ‘acceptable’ by staff whose middle class viewpoint predominated, but only the ‘more able’ pupils were felt to be capable of taking Heritage Scots. However, Modern Scots, the language of the street, schoolyard, city housing estate or rural settlement, was considered by the same staff as ‘inappropriate’ even though it is the living language spoken by a majority of largely working class children.
Lowing described how many staff were not comfortable with giving Modern Scots status even when the ‘less able’ children excelled in class projects using the language. And here we come to one of the central conclusions of Lowing’s research. As she comments “The associations of ‘heritage’ and ‘modern’ Scots to certain groups of pupils, was a concerning outcome to the study and raised issues regarding social justice in Scottish schools.”
Lowing has concluded that in order to avoid further entrenching class division, and denying status and expression to children from lower socio-economic groups, policy makers must carefully plan the approach to Scots. Firstly, there must be a Scots canon largely based on Modern Scots – the language with which most are familiar, and which encourages positive connotations. Only this will encourage (Modern) Scots-speaking children to better use the language. Lowing also says that teachers would benefit from acknowledging the “...etymological, syntactical and lexical significance...” of Modern Scots as the first language many bring to school, rather than relying on Heritage texts such as Burns or the makars. Such an approach supports pupil self confidence and encourages social justice and diversity. Such an approach gives a voice to all children irrespective of class or culture.
Dr Karen Lowing is now based at the University of Durham and her work will be appearing in Scottish Language Journal. You can also access her research findings in more detail at Newcastle Library by following this link: https://theses.ncl.ac.uk/dspace/handle/10443/2677 or downloading the pdf below.