Modern Studies

Modern studies is a subject unique to the Scottish secondary school curriculum, that is concerned with the study of local, national and international issues from a social, political and economic perspective.[1] Most pupils will study Modern Studies for all, or at least most, of 1st and 2nd Year of secondary school and thereafter may elect to study the subject during the following years towards National Qualifications. Some schools do not teach Modern Studies as a discrete subject, choosing instead to integrate History, Geography and Modern Studies into a Social Subjects course, at least in S1.


Modern Studies is concerned with the study of seven key concepts;

Act, speak, or make decisions on behalf of other people, e.g. an MP speaking for his/her constituents in the Parliament.

Freedoms we are entitled to and duties or obligations we have as a result, e.g. the right to vote and the responsibility to use the vote wisely.

Joining in, taking part, becoming involved, e.g. standing as prime minister

Ideas and beliefs of a political or economic system, e.g. the United States is a capitalist democracy.

Having the same level of wealth, status or well-being; usually looked at in terms of inequality, e.g. some elderly people have a lower living standard than others.

What individuals, groups or countries must have to survive and develop; usually looked at in terms of whether needs are being met, e.g. some developing countries find it difficult to meet their basic needs.

Ability individuals, groups or countries have to act or influence how others act.

The Primary Curriculum

Primary schools in Scotland follow the 5-14 guidelines, which sets out different areas to be covered. Environmental Studies covers social subjects among other things and therefore work on Modern Studies concepts and knowledge begins prior to secondary school.

In S1 and S2

Each school has the freedom to develop a course to suit the needs and interests of both pupils and teachers, but most will develop courses for study that are in line with the Experiences and Outcomes of CfE. Topics normally taught include fairtrade, China and Human Rights.

The New National Qualifications

As part of Curriculum for Excellence, Access 3, Intermediate 1 and Intermediate 2 levels have been replaced with National 3, National 4 and National 5 qualifications. The courses still retain three broad units: Political, Social and International. The options at political level are Democracy in Scotland or Democracy in the UK. The Social Unit comprises Social Inequality and Crime and Law. The International Unit allows study of a world power (either in the G20 or the EU) or an international issue (such as poverty, child soldiers or collective security). Other changes include an Added Value unit (or assignment).


Modern Studies does not exist as a separate subject at University level though it is a sound basis for further study of a range of subjects from which Modern Studies is composed, such as Politics, International Relations, Sociology, Economics and Public Policy.

See also

Education in Scotland


  1. What is Modern Studies? Modern Studies Association
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