‘Older Scots for Modern Scots’ was an initiative set up in the spring of 2020 to explore how best to (re)introduce Older Scots literature to the Scottish secondary school classroom, whether as options for the SQA Higher and/or Advanced Higher English award, as additional resources for the SQA Scots Language or Scottish Studies Awards, or just to give teachers something different to try on a rainy Friday afternoon. It is run by Rhiannon Purdie in conjunction with the SQA.

Our ultimate goal is to put together a suite of resources for Older Scots literature – texts, study guides, recordings, podcasts, and an interactive web app for learning to read Older Scots – in order to make it more manageable for teachers, and attractive for pupils, to study this unfamiliar material from the period when Scotland’s literary culture was far more indepdendent and self-aware than it would become after full political union with England.


Higher and Sixth Year Studies English papers had included options to study a handful of Older Scots texts through the 1990s (Robert Henryson’s Moral Fables or The Testament of Cresseid, and Sir David Lyndsay’s Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis), but uptake was low and by the mid 2000s they had been quietly dropped. On the most recent list of Scottish texts set for the Higher English courses, the only pre-1900 texts are Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) and a handful of poems by Robert Burns (published 1786-96); nothing in Older Scots, and therefore no representation at all of the literature of the former independent kingdom of Scotland. The majority of modern schoolteachers of literature have never encountered Older Scots texts and thus may not feel confident to attempt them. Teachers of Scots Language will of course be familiar with Older Scots since the language’s history and development is a required component of the Scots Language Award, but resources to help students read older texts competently are nevertheless thin.

We need you!

In early 2022 the OSMS Initiative conducted interviews with volunteer secondary schoolteachers of either English of Scots Language studies. This was to give us a better sense of the barriers to teaching such texts, and what kinds of resources would best help to overcome them. We’re very grateful to all our interviewees for their many suggestions, cautions and also their enthusiasm for literature in Scots, whether old or modern.

As Read Older Scots moves into the next phase of actually developing resources, we will be looking for secondary school teachers willing to try out material in their classes, whether in Scotland or further afield. If that is you, please get in touch! We are also interested in further suggestions of what you would like us to develop. Are there texts you’re curious about but cannot find material for? Do you just want to try something different for a class hour or two? Email us at contact@readolderscots.scot.

If you’re a Scottish schoolteacher who missed the first phase of interviews but would still like to respond, please feel free to complete the original OSMS Questionnaire (the set of questions around which interviews were based) and email it back to us. See also the original Participant Information Sheet and OSMS Participant Advert.