It's about time. After years of concern that Scottish history has been wrongly excluded from the Higher exam it is to be made a compulsory element of the paper.

The move by Scotland's exam body follows a long-running campaign by teachers and academics, first aired in The Herald two years ago, to ensure questions about Scottish history appeared in the exam paper.

While the Higher always had Scottish questions, they were in topics that weren't commonly studied by schools, who mostly opted to teach the later modern period.

In that section there was no guarantee that a Scottish question would come up and teachers therefore chose other subjects, such as the suffragettes.

In 2005, the situation was described as a "national disgrace" by Professor Tom Devine, the nation's foremost contemporary historian, who said Scotland was the only country in Europe with a national history that was not compulsory in school.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) was also lobbied by the Scottish Association of Teachers of History (Sath) who called for a review of the course.

Following the review in May this year, which overwhelmingly backed change, the SQA has decided to introduce a revised Higher paper in the 2010-11 school year which will feature a compulsory section on Scottish history.

Although the content is still under consideration, topics could include the 1286-1329 Wars of Independence, migration and Scotland's role in the Empire and the Act of Union. Existing topics likely to be retained include the home rule movement, the 1979 referendum on devolution, protests on Clydeside and slum clearances in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The move emerged on the day that a report by school's inspectors questioned whether pupils in primary and S1 and S2 were getting a proper understanding of Scottish history because of the freedom given to schools over what is taught.

An HM Inspectorate of Education (HMIE) evaluation of history said flexibility was good because it allowed schools to focus on local issues of interest, but meant "the development of a balanced and coherent experience" was "far from guaranteed".

"In particular, there is currently no certainty that pupils' engagement with history will allow them to build up a sense of how Scotland's past has developed; and hence understand significant issues of national identity and Scotland's place in the wider world," the report states.

Last night, history teachers and academics welcomed the changes to the Higher exam, but said that to get to grips with the underlying problems of history identified by HMIE required an increase in the amount of time spent teaching the subject.

Mr Devine said: "This is a major step forward and one that is to be welcomed. The spine of our history should be Scottish and moving out from that should be British, European and world history.

"However, there is still some way to go.

"We still await the implementation of the Scottish Government's manifesto promise to embed Scottish history throughout school life.

"There has been an eerie silence on this so far."

Duncan Toms, president of Sath, also welcomed the move. "There has been a feeling for a long time that higher up the school there was much less representation of Scottish history than there should have been, particularly in the modern options," he said.

Following the SQA's consultation 62% of respondents agreed that Scottish history should be a compulsory part of the Higher history.

Curriculum contenders

  • The wars of Independence 1286-1329: Founding document of the Scottish nation, the Declaration of Abroath was drawn up in 1320 following continued attacks by the English army on Scottish soil. the document was designed to convey the case of independence to the Pope.
  • Scotland at War and Peace 1914-1945: Tanks sent into Glasgow in 1919 to stem violent post-war strikes which erupted as workers, battled against low wages and squalid living conditions at a time when the city's industrialists were enjoying vast profits.
  • 1689-1715: The Glencoe Massacre of 1692 saw 38 people killed by government soldiers after Chief of Glencoe Alistair MacIain failed to pledge his allegiance to King William III in time. Notorious after troops turned on their Glencoe hosts following a night of Highland hospitality.
  • Scotland in the Age of Reformation: Catholic priest turned Protestant preacher, the story of Scotland's Reformation in the 1500's is bound to the story of John Knox, who counted Mary, Queen of Scots as his chief antagonist.