Education in Scotland

Education in Scotland
Scottish Government Logo.svg
Scottish Government
Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills
Minister for Childcare and Early Years
Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science
John Swinney MSP
Maree Todd MSP
Richard Lochhead MSP
National education budget
Budget£2.6 bn[2]
Per student£3,855 (2004–2005)[1]
General details
Primary languagesEnglish, Scottish Gaelic
System typeNational
Compulsory education1872
Literacy (2005 est)
Post secondary739,000#

Education in Scotland is overseen by the Scottish Government and has a history of universal provision of public education, and the Scottish education system is distinctly different from those in the other countries of the United Kingdom. The Scotland Act 1998 gives the Scottish Parliament legislative control over all education matters, and the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 is the principal legislation governing education in Scotland. Traditionally, the Scottish system at secondary school level has emphasised breadth across a range of subjects, while the English, Welsh and Northern Irish systems have emphasised greater depth of education over a smaller range of subjects.

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. 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 learning and teaching by Education Scotland (formerly Learning and Teaching Scotland). There are also private schools across the country, although the distribution is uneven with such schools in 22 of the 32 Local Authority areas. At September 2011 the total pupil population in Scotland was 702,104, of which 31,425 pupils, or 4.5%, were being educated in independent schools.[3]

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 Parliament and the Learning Directorate.[4] Inspections and audits of educational standards are conducted by three bodies: Care Inspectorate inspects care standards in pre-school provision; Education Scotland (formerly 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.

In 2014, research by the Office for National Statistics found that Scotland was the most highly educated country in Europe and among the most well-educated in the world in terms of tertiary education attainment, above countries like Finland, Ireland and Luxembourg, with roughly 40% of Scots aged 16–64 educated to NVQ level 4 and above.[5]

School years

Pupils and Early Years Minister Adam Ingram, Education and Lifelong Learning Secretary Fiona Hyslop and Schools and Skills Minister Maureen Watt with pupils at Avenue End Primary Campus in Glasgow.

Children start primary school aged between 4½ and 5½ depending on when the child's birthday falls.[6] 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 decide to defer for 1 year (but may or may not receive a funded nursery place in the deferral year), whilst children born between January and February can opt to hold their child back a year and let them start school the following August, with guaranteed nursery funding. This usually allows those not ready for formal education to have an extra year at an early years centre (formerly known as nursery).

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 National 4/5 exams (previously Standard Grade or Intermediate exams) at the age of fifteen/sixteen, normally for between 6 and eight subjects including compulsory exams in English and Mathematics. A Science subject (Physics, Biology or Chemistry) and a Social Subject (Geography, History or Modern Studies) were also compulsory, but this was changed in accordance with the new curriculum. 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 National 4/5s), after which students may choose to remain at school and study for Higher and/or Advanced Higher exams.

A small number of students at certain private, independent schools may follow the English system and study towards GCSE instead of National 4/5s (Standard Grades), and towards A and AS-Levels instead of (or alongside) 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 (For England and Wales, the equivalence given is for children born before 1 September; the equivalence for those born from September to February [December for deferred pupils] is given in brackets):

Scotland Age at start of school year Age at end of school year England and Wales Northern Ireland
Playgroup 2-3 3-4 Nursery Play School
Nursery 3-4 4-5 Reception Nursery
Primary 1 4-5 5-6 Year 1 P1
Primary 2 5-6 6-7 Year 2 P2
Primary 3 6-7 7-8 Year 3 P3
Primary 4 7-8 8-9 Year 4 P4
Primary 5 8-9 9-10 Year 5 P5
Primary 6 9-10 10-11 Year 6 P6
Primary 7 10-11 11-12 Year 7 P7
S1 (First year) 11-12 12-13 Year 8 Year 8 (1st Year)
S2 (Second year) 12-13 13-14 Year 9 Year 9 (2nd Year)
S3 (Third year) 13-14 14-15 Year 10 Year 10 (3rd Year)
S4 (Fourth year) 14-15 15-16 Year 11 Year 11 (4th Year)
S5 (Fifth year) 15-16 16-17 Year 12 (Lower Sixth Form) Year 12 (5th Year)
S6 (Sixth Year) 16-17 17-18 Year 13 (Upper Sixth Form) Year 13 (L6th Year)
17-18 18-19 Year 14 (U6th Year)

Access to early years centres, primary and secondary school

Government funded schools are free for children aged 5–19.[7] In many cases, this applies to children of international post-graduate students,[8] and other immigrants.

The age ranges specify the youngest age for a child entering that year and the oldest age for a child leaving that year. Playgroup can be described as a daycare centre for toddlers, then children may go on to attend an early years centre 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 to begin class in August.

All parents of children born between September and February (i.e. 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.

Only children whose birthdays fall in January or February will be considered for funding for a subsequent year at an early years centre, 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, this date is 31 May of their 4th year of secondary school. For children born between 1 October and 28 February, the last day of June is the first date they may leave school if they have a placement at college and the school have signed the health & safety forms.

Which high school the children go to depends on the area where they live, known as the "catchment area", which has a specific high school that takes children who live in that area.

Parents can also apply for a placement request if they would like their child to attend a school outside their catchment area and a panel will decide if the child is the most worthy (out of all placing requests) to take one of the spaces left after all children from the catchment area have been taken.

The table below lists list the numbers of children, schools and teachers in all publicly funded schools:[9]

Children Schools Teachers pupil:teacher ratio
Early Years Education 102,871 2,504 1,288
Primary 377,372 2,056 22,905 16.5
Secondary 289,164 364 23,695 12.2
Special 6,984 149 2,020 3.5

Home education is also legal in Scotland. Parents wishing to home educate do not need the permission of the Local Authority unless the children are already registered at a school. There are no exact numbers available for children being educated at home in Scotland.[10]