School Based Holocaust Education in Scotland

Submitting Institution

University of the West of Scotland

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Education: Curriculum and Pedagogy, Specialist Studies In Education
Studies In Human Society: Sociology

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Summary of the impact

This case study focuses on Holocaust education in schools in Scotland. The research has shaped future United Nations programmes, influencing teaching pedagogy in Scotland and in the international community. Findings have contributed to the recognition of the positive value of school based Holocaust education as evidenced in Scotland by local authorities' provision of Continued Professional Development courses in teaching the Holocaust to teachers, and increasing numbers of schools commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day. Further, the research has contributed to the political debate on the value of school visits to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Holocaust Memorial and Museum, and educational debates on the contribution of Holocaust to Citizenship education.

Underpinning research

The impacts reported in this case study emerge from research spanning the period 2008-2013, and led by Paula Cowan (Senior Lecturer at UWS) and Professor Henry Maitles (Reader in Education at Strathclyde University until appointed Professor at UWS in 2010). The empirical research involves young people aged 11-19, and several teachers, across Scotland and the discursive research analyses the nature of Holocaust education in Scotland and the continued relevance of the Holocaust to Scotland in schools and their communities.

The first research was (3.1) commissioned through the Scottish Executive Education Department and was a longitudinal study that investigated short and long term impact of Holocaust education on students' values and attitudes. Findings provide evidence that students aged 10-12 years are open to learning about controversial issues such as the Holocaust and that their attitudes towards minority groups are more positive after they have studied the Holocaust.

The second research (3.4, 3.5) was funded by the Pears Foundation and the Holocaust Educational Trust (2008-2009) and followed a pilot study conducted by Paula Cowan in 2006 with grant support from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland (2006). The research investigated the views of students and teachers who participated in the first Lessons From Auschwitz Project (LFAP) in Scotland. Findings suggested that school participation in the LFAP led to more school based teaching of the Holocaust and contributed significantly to developing students' citizenship, that the curriculum was enhanced by inputs from the LFAP participants, and that teacher participation motivated their teaching of the Holocaust and Human Rights Education and contributed to their professional development. Teachers' highest perceived gains were in their knowledge of antisemitism, genocide, human rights, Auschwitz and the Holocaust. These findings challenged the negative view visiting the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum often depicted as dark tourism and provided evidence of the positive value of this educational Project.

Further research linking the teaching of the Holocaust with citizenship issues (3.3) — in particular in this case involving simulations — showed that young people aged about 12 were open to challenging aspects of discrimination that were in the simulation in their school; it further suggested that one of the key stages outlined by the UN in genocide — the identification, labelling and isolation of the `other' — is worryingly easy to orchestrate, but that there are significant numbers who are unhappy about it and wanted to challenge the policy.

The discursive analyses (3.2, 3.6) raised the profile of Holocaust education in Scotland by making comparisons with Holocaust education in England, and examining Scotland's connections with the Holocaust. Discussion of Scottish initiatives in relation to school educational policies, practices and priorities concluded that young people in Scotland were becoming increasingly engaged in school and community based education, and that the curriculum, commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day and the LFAP were principal factors in this engagement. This research conceptualizes connections to the Holocaust which is helpful to similar countries that were on the margins of the Holocaust.

References to the research

(3.1) Maitles, H. and Cowan, P. (2008) "Why are we learning this?": Does Studying the Holocaust Encourage Better Citizenship Values? Genocide Studies and Prevention 3 (3): 341-352.


(3.2) Cowan, P. and Maitles, H. (2010) Policy and Practice of Holocaust Education in Scotland, Prospects, 40 (2):257-272.


(3.3) Maitles, H. (2010) Why Does Wearing A Yellow Bib Make Us Different?: A Case Study of Explaining Discrimination in a West of Scotland Secondary (High) School, Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 8 (1): 246-261.

(3.4) Cowan, P. and Maitles, H. (2011) "We Saw Inhumanity Close Up": What is gained by school students from Scotland visiting Auschwitz? Journal of Curriculum Studies, 43 (2):163-184.


(3.5) Maitles, H. and Cowan, P. (2012) "It reminded me of what really matters": teacher responses to the Lessons from Auschwitz Project, Educational Review, 6 (2):131-143.


(3.6) Cowan, P. (2013) Reconceptualising the Holocaust and Holocaust Education in countries that escaped Nazi occupation: a Scottish perspective, Intercultural Education, 24 (1-2):167-179.


Details of the impact

The research described above has impacted firstly on the development of Holocaust education in Scotland and secondly on the nature of Holocaust education in a wider international context (5.5).

The former is shown by invitations to give additional presentations or to lead CPD programmes on Holocaust education for teachers (South Ayrshire, 2011; Dundee, 2011); or to speak at schools' events for Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) (Glasgow City Council, 2009; Renfrewshire Council, 2010). Further, Cowan was invited on the Holocaust Memorial Day (Scotland) Planning Group and has worked with Interfaith Scotland (testimonial 1), the Scottish Government and Education Scotland on this Committee (since 2011) to organise the national HMD event and commemorative events for schools and the wider community. In addition, Cowan was invited to be the education advisor on a feasibility study for a Scottish Holocaust Study Centre in Glasgow (2013), funded by the Scottish Government, and has given key addresses at consultation meetings, attended by senior education managers, teachers and members of the Jewish community.

The latter is shown by Cowan's keynote address at a UNESCO conference (Paris, 2011) on `Teaching difficult issues in primary schools: the example of the Holocaust' where she addressed education managers, policy makers, teachers and academics from across Europe (5.1, 5.2, 5.4) and also by Cowan's appointment (in 2009) on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (testimonial 2). As a delegate to the United Kingdom, this requires Cowan to attend two annual international meetings and sit on the Academic Working Group, which comprises historians, educationalists and academics from 32 countries. Cowan advises the UK Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust issues, in ensuring that the UK continues to play a prominent role in international discussions in all Holocaust-related matters, especially those relating to education and the opening of archives, with acknowledgement of Maitles and Cowan's research in the UK annual country report (5.8).

Following numerous presentations at national and international academic conferences and research highlighting links between Holocaust education and citizenship, Professor Maitles has been elected President-elect of Children's Identity and Citizenship in Europe (CiCe, an EU ERASMUS network). The CiCe international coordinator has confirmed that this was in large part because of Maitles' research linking Holocaust and citizenship (testimonial 3). Maitles has been invited to deliver keynote addresses on Holocaust and citizenship in both Florence, Italy (2006) and at the International Educational Association of South Africa annual conference (2013). At the latter conference, the Chief with specific responsibility for the United Nations Academic Impact initiative commented that Maitles' research in Scotland impacted on the UN work around the `Unlearning Intolerance' seminar suggestions for all UN countries (testimonial 4). Maitles was also invited to speak at the Scottish Parliament meeting commemorating the UN International Day of Peace (2013) to MSPs, policy makers and teachers (testimonial 5). To further develop the links between the Holocaust and Citizenship learning, Cowan and Maitles edited a book for teachers and student teachers, `Teaching Controversial Issues in the Classroom' (2012) which Prof. Stuart Foster (Executive Director of the Centre for Holocaust Education at the Institute of Education) has commented "is a must read for educators concerned both with developing the values of an open democratic society and supporting young people to become thoughtful, empathetic, articulate, reasoned and critical individuals."

The research conducted on the Lessons From Auschwitz Project in Scotland was the first systematic evaluation of the Project (5.6), and conducted when the future of Scotland's participation in this Project was uncertain as the Scottish Government had not agreed to continue with its funding. This research therefore provided MSPs with evidence regarding the value of this Project on young people, teachers, their schools and their communities (5.3, 5.9). The Holocaust Educational Trust referred to this research during its discussions with representatives of the Scottish Government and research findings assisted the Holocaust Educational Trust in their understanding of the distinctive features of the Scottish curriculum and in their development of teacher-only visits to Auschwitz (testimonial 6). The Scottish Government has since renewed and increased its funding of this Project.

Sources to corroborate the impact

(5.1) Cowan, P. (2008) Learning about the Holocaust and responsible citizenship in Scotland, Race Equality Teaching, 26(2):36-39. Practitioner's publication that focusses on race equality in education.

(5.2) Cowan, P. (2010) Scotland's New Approaches to Learning about the Holocaust and Racism, Race Equality Teaching, 28(2): 27-30.
Practitioner's publication that focusses on race equality in education.

(5.3) Cowan, P. (2012) Visiting Auschwitz-Valuable Lessons or Holocaust Tourism? In Teaching Controversial Issues in the Classroom: Key Issues and Debates, edited by P. Cowan and H. Maitles,142-151, London: Continuum.
Book for teachers, community educators and student teachers.

(5.4) Cowan, P. and Maitles, H. (2012) Pedagogical Issues in Teaching the Holocaust. In Teaching Controversial Issues in the Classroom: Key Issues and Debates, edited by P. Cowan and H. Maitles,120-129, London: Continuum.
Book for teachers, community educators and student teachers.

(5.5) Davis, B.L. and Rubinstein-Avila, E. (2013) Holocaust education: global forces shaping curricula integration and implementation, Intercultural Education, 24(1-2), p.149.
Academic journal that is a global forum for educational professionals with an interest in implementation of intercultural education.

(5.6) The Holocaust Educational Trust, (2009) Never Again: How the Lessons From Auschwitz Project Impacts on Schools in Scotland, London: The Holocaust Educational Trust.
Report written by Cowan and Maitles

(5.7) International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance,(2012) ITF (Taskforce for International Cooperation in Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research), Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research in the United Kingdom, [online] Available at:
[Accessed 29 September 2012].
Annual UK report

(5.8) Maitles, H. and Cowan, P. (2009) Seeing the world today from a different viewpoint: the impact of the lessons from Auschwitz project on schools in Scotland,
Conference paper disseminated to academics in Europe at the CiCe conference.

Beneficiaries of Research

Testimonials Enclosed:

  1. Director, Interfaith Scotland. 523 Shields Road. Glasgow G41 2RF
  2. UK Envoy for Post- Holocaust Issues, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, King Charles St, London SW1A 2AH.
  3. Children's Identity and Citizenship in Europe International Coordinator, CiCe Children's Identity and Citizenship in Europe, IPSE, London Metropolitan University 166-220 Holloway Road London, N7 8DB
  4. Chief, United Nations Academic Impact, Department of Public Information. S-0937 United Nations Secretariat. New York 10017
  5. International Day of Peace organiser, Scotland's For Peace. 77 Southpark Avenue. Glasgow G12 8LE
  6. Head of Education, Holocaust Educational Trust, BCM Box 7892.London WC1N 3XX