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Scotlandmarker has a long history of universal provision of public education, and the Scottish education system is distinctly different from other parts of the United Kingdommarker.

Traditionally, the Scottish system has emphasised breadth across a range of subjects, while the English, Welsh and Northern Irishmarker systems have emphasised greater depth of education over a smaller range of subjects at secondary school level.

Following this, Scottish universities generally have courses a year longer (typically 4 years) than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK, though it is often possible for students to take more advanced specialised exams and join the courses at the second year. One unique aspect is that the ancient universities of Scotland issue a Master of Arts as the first degree in humanities.

The majority of schools are non-denominational, but as a result of the Education Act 1918, separate Roman Catholic state schools were also established. Catholic schools are fully funded by the Scottish Government and administered by the Education and Lifelong Learning Directorate. There are specific legal provisions to ensure the promotion of a Catholic ethos in such schools: applicants for positions in the areas of Religious Education, Guidance or Senior Management must be approved by the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, which also appoints a chaplain to each of its schools. There is also one Jewish state primary school.

Qualifications at the secondary school and post-secondary (further education) level are provided by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, which is the national awarding and accrediting body in Scotland, and delivered through various schools, colleges and other centres. Political responsibility for education at all levels is vested in the Scottish Parliamentmarker and the Scottish Education and Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning Departments.

State schools are owned and operated by the local authorities which act as Education Authorities, and the compulsory phase is divided into primary school and secondary school (often called high school). Schools are supported in delivering the National Guidelines and National Priorities by Learning and Teaching Scotland.

Inspections and audits of educational standards are conducted by three bodies: Care Commission inspects care standards in pre-school provision; Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education for pre-school, primary, education, further and community education; with the Scottish office of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA Scotland) responsible for higher education.

School years

Children start primary school aged between 4½ and 5½ depending on when the child's birthday falls. Scottish school policy places all those born between March of a given year and February of the following year in the same year group. Children born between March and August start school in August at between 5½ and 5 years old, and those born between September and February start school in the previous August at between age 4 years 11 months and 4½ years old. The Scottish system is the most flexible in the UK, however, as parents of children born between September and December can request a deferral for 1 year (not automatic, requires to be approved), whilst children born between January and February can opt to hold their child back a year and let them start school the following August. This usually allows those not ready for formal education to have an extra year at nursery school. (Funding is only available for children born in January and February).

Pupils remain at primary school for seven years. Then aged eleven or twelve, they start secondary school for a compulsory four years with the following two years being optional. In Scotland, pupils sit Standard Grade or Intermediate exams at the age of fifteen/sixteen, for normally eight subjects including compulsory exams in English, Mathematics, a Science subject (Physics, Biology or Chemistry) and a Social Subject (Geography, History or Modern Studies). It is now required by the Scottish Parliament for students to have two hours of physical education a week; each school may vary these compulsory combinations. The school leaving age is generally sixteen (after completion of Standard Grades), after which students may choose to remain at school and study for Higher Grade and Advanced Higher exams. Increasingly, students in S3 and S4 are able to take Intermediate courses, as these have become more popular and are more closely linked to Highers.

A small number of students at certain private, independent schools may follow the English system and study towards GCSEs instead of Standard Grades, and towards A and AS-Level instead of Higher Grade and Advanced Higher exams. The International Baccalaureate has also been introduced in some independent schools.

The table below lists rough equivalences with the year system in the rest of the United Kingdom. Please note that the years are approximate as a school year is defined differently in the separate systems:
Scotland Age range England and Wales Northern Ireland
Primary 1 4 - 6 Reception P1
Primary 2 5 - 7 Year 1 P2
Primary 3 6 - 8 Year 2 P3
Primary 4 7 - 9 Year 3 P4
Primary 5 8 - 10 Year 4 P5
Primary 6 9 - 11 Year 5 P6
Primary 7 10 - 12 Year 6 P7
Secondary 1 (First Year) 11 - 13 Year 7 Year 8 (First - Second Form)
Secondary 2 (Second Year) 12 - 14 Year 8 Year 9 (Second - Third Form)
Secondary 3 (Third Year) 13 - 15 Year 9 Year 10 (Third - Fourth Form)
Secondary 4 (Fourth Year) 14 - 16 Year 10 Year 11 (Fourth - Fifth Form)
Secondary 5 (Fifth Year) 15 - 17 Year 11 Year 12 (Fifth Form - Lower Sixth Form)
Secondary 6 (Sixth Year) 16 - 18 Years 12 and 13 Year 13 (Sixth Form - Upper Sixth)

In Scotland, there is no equivalent of the Sixth form colleges; S5 and S6 are always part of Scottish secondary schools. S5 and S6 are optional, and in the Scottish system are a chance to study additional Intermediate, Higher or Advanced Higher courses, further helping teenagers access university education.

Access to nursery, primary and secondary school

Note that the age ranges specify the youngest age for a child entering that year and the oldest age for a child leaving that year. Children may start attending nursery as soon as they have passed their third birthday, and progress to Primary 1 in the August of the year in which they turn five. In general, the cut-off point for ages is the end of February, so all children must be of a certain age on 1 March in order to begin class in August. However all parents of children born between September and February (e.g. still 4 years old on the school start date) are entitled to defer entry to Primary School if they believe their child is not ready for school. However, only children whose birthdays fall in January or February will be considered for funding for a subsequent year at nursery, unless there are special circumstances. Children may leave school once they reach their statutory school leaving date, this is dependent on date of birth. For children born between 1 March and 30 September it is 31 May of their 4th year of secondary school. For children born between 1 October and 28 February it is the last day of the June they may leave school if they have a placement at college and the school have signed the health & safety forms.

Pupils thus transfer to Scottish secondary schools at age 12, a year later than elsewhere in the United Kingdom, in England and Wales Year 7 is normally the first year of secondary school.


Since 2004, work has been in progress on an education reform programme, which is to produce a new Curriculum for Excellence replacing existing guidance.

School qualifications

The vast majority of Scottish pupils take Scottish Qualifications Certificate qualifications provided by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). Generally, most pupils take Standard Grades (but some schools offer Intermediates instead) in S3-S4, and Highers in S5. For those who wish to remain at school for the final year (S6), more Highers and Advanced Highers (formerly CSYS) in S6 can be taken. Intermediate 1 and Intermediate 2 qualifications - were intended to be roughly equivalent to General and Credit Level Standard Grades respectively, but in practice, Intermediate 1 is easier than General, and Intermediate 2 harder than Credit - can also be taken in lieu of any of the aforementioned qualifications.

Pupils can go to university at the end of S5, as Highers provide the entry requirements for Scottish universities where degrees are normally at least four years long; however, the norm is for students to remain through S6, taking further Highers, or moving to the Advanced level. Those who wish to go to university in England, or intend to study popular courses such as Medicine or Law, are often required to take a sixth year.

All educational qualifications in Scotland are part of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework.

Secondary school naming

There is not a set name for secondary schools in Scotland. Amongst the state-run schools:

  • 188 are High Schools. These are spread across the country.

  • 131 are Academies. These are spread across the country but are in high concentration in North-East Scotland and Ayrshire.

  • 15 are Secondary Schools (colloquially abbreviated to "secondaries").

  • 13 are simply Schools. These schools cater for Primary as well as Secondary school children. They are found in rural areas or islands.

  • 8 are Junior High Schools. These schools are found exclusively in the Orkneymarker and Shetlandmarker Islands. They cater for school children from P1 to S4.

Other schools include The Community School of Auchterarder, Auchterardermarker, Perth and Kinross; The Nicholson Institute, Stornowaymarker, Western Islesmarker; North Walls Community School on Hoymarker, Orkney Islandsmarker and Wester Hailes Education Centre, Wester Hailesmarker, Edinburghmarker.

Vocational education

Vocational education is provided in Further Education Colleges and through apprenticeship.


History of education in Scotland

For information about the education system in Scotland in the past, see History of education in Scotland


See also

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