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Meet the modern studies teacher who inspired two of Scotland’s top politicians

Ruth Davidson and Alex Cole-Hamilton / DCT Media Design Team

When Paul Hunt was teaching modern studies to countless thousands of children over the last 30 years, he had no way of knowing he inspired two of them in particular to follow careers in politics.

Although he’s spent more than two decades teaching at Perth Academy, Mr Hunt previously taught at schools in Fife and remembers Ruth Davidson in first year at Buckhaven High, and Alex Cole-Hamilton in his higher class at Madras College.

“What I remember about Ruth, I have this image in my mind, she was a very smiley wee girl, I remember her being an amiable kid.”

“I remember Alex well, he was a chatty we lad! Willing to talk and contribute, and he looks nothing like he does today. I remember this wavy-haired skinny boy. He was quite a character, a nice lad, chatty and enthusiastic.”

Did you know? SNP MP Anum Qaisar-Javed was a modern studies teacher before being elected to Westminster in May.

Ruth Davidson went on to a career in journalism then politics, where she was the leader of the Scottish Conservatives for eight years, and played a leading role in May’s Scottish Parliament elections before being elevated to the House of Lords earlier this summer.

Alex Cole-Hamilton has been an MSP since 2016 and this month was elected as the new leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Modern Studies teacher Paul Hunt taught both Ruth Davidson and Alex Cole Hamilton

Fond memories of Mr Hunt

Both Ruth Davidson and Alex Cole-Hamilton recall their teacher as a snappy dresser, hanging out with the other younger teachers in their 20s at the time.

“I remember Mr Hunt as being really enthusiastic and energetic when he taught me, very young just out of teacher training probably” says Ruth Davidson.

“The younger teachers seemed more cool, he was really dapper with these arm braces on his shirt sleeves, and worked hard to bring the subject to life for people, with a youthful energy.”

“Maybe because Buckhaven was his first school everything was new for him and us, and everything seemed like a journey for all of us. The thing I loved about Mr Hunt was that he had a a sense of internationalism about him and wanted to bring a sense of the world to the classroom” she adds.

Former Scottish Conservative leader Baroness Ruth Davidson

I don’t think I would be an MSP if I had not taken modern studies in school.” – Alex Cole-Hamilton

Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton also remembers his old teacher Paul Hunt being sharply dressed with a genuine passion for modern studies.

“Mr Hunt I remember had these very fetching waistcoats and he always had these bicycle clips around his sleeves which we were slightly baffled by at the time, but I now understood to be the height of fashion, so he was always quite a well-dressed man!”

Alex now passes on his own enthusiasm for modern studies when he visits schools and talks to students, and although he went on to study politics and international relations at Aberdeen University he credits those high school modern studies classes in Fife for putting him on the path to Holyrood.

“I say look if you’re interested in politics get involved in modern studies. It is such a great entry into the world of public policy but also human rights, state craft and everything”

“I was quite political at an early age and I wanted an outlet for that, and modern studies certainly gave me that and channeled me in directions I would never have gone. And I don’t think I would be an MSP if I had not taken modern studies in school.”

Alex Cole-Hamilton, Scottish Liberal Democrats

Changing curriculum

So what were young Baroness Davidson and young Cole-Hamilton learning back in their modern studies classes 30 years ago?

Veteran teacher Paul Hunt says a lot has changed over the years but back then they’d be studying concepts of democracy and holding mock elections in class.

“We looked at things like injustice and human rights and at higher level we would be doing democracy in the USA. But these days we look at Scottish democracy that’s the difference now we have the Scottish Parliament and we’re teaching the kids about politics and democracy in Scotland.”

Did you know? Cabinet Secretary for Europe Jenny Gilruth was a modern studies teacher in Fife before she became a politician.

The internet too has radically changed how modern studies is taught, bring the digital information age into every lesson.

“I have been saying to my kids all week I believe you are the most literate generation there has ever been because you have access to mobile devices all the time.”

“I encourage my kids during lessons to get out their mobile devices and research something, looking at false information and fake news. Thirty years ago computing was just coming into schools, we had a few computers and we never used them. But now they all have access to the internet and I encourage them to use it.”

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