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Qualifications and education in Scotland

04 September 2017

How does the Scottish education system compare with the rest of the UK? We examine the differences.

The Scottish Parliament has legislative control over all aspects of education in Scotland. The majority of Scottish schools follow the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) across nursery, primary and secondary stages, and the school year runs from the third week of August until late June.

Children complete seven years of education at primary school (from P1 to P7) and a further six at secondary school (from S1 to S6). The system has five levels: Early (pre-school and P1); First (to the end of P4); Second (to the end of P7); Third and Fourth (S1 to S3); and Senior (S4 to S6, college, and so on).

Unlike in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, there are no phases or stages; the curriculum runs from age three to 18. The Scottish Government only sets guidelines for the curriculum, giving schools more flexibility and freedom to make their own decisions about how and what to teach than does, for example, the National Curriculum in England.

The curriculum is broken into two broad stages: a general education from early years to the end of S3, and a senior phase for pupils studying for qualifications (from S4 to S6). The broad general education is closely connected to the senior phase and provides a strong foundation for pupils to choose which qualifications best fit their abilities and interests.

Many independent schools in Scotland offer GCSE, IGCSE, A Level or, in some instances, the IB (International Baccalaureate) instead of the Scottish CfE. One such school is Fettes College, a coeducational boarding school in the heart of Edinburgh.

Fettes is the only school in Scotland to offer both A Levels and the IB. Providing this choice, it believes, allows each pupil to choose a curriculum that plays to his or her strengths. The school says that following either of these curricula greatly benefits university application, both in the UK and internationally.

School starting age in Scotland

Children born between March and August start school in the August following their fifth birthday. Children born between September and February begin school in the August before their fifth birthday. However, parents of children born between September and December can ask the local education authority to defer their child’s start date to the following August. Deferral is not automatic and is subject to approval. Parents of children born in January and February can also ask the local education authority to defer their child’s start date. These requests are approved automatically.

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Qualifications and education in Scotland

14 September 2016

The Scottish education system is distinctly different from other countries in the United Kingdom.

The Scottish parliament, through the Scotland Act 1998, has legislative control over all aspects of education in Scotland.

What is the curriculum in Scotland?

Scotland follows the Curriculum for Excellence (also known as the CfE) across nursery, primary and secondary schools. Unlike England, Wales and Northern Ireland, there are no phases or stages, the curriculum runs from age three to 18. The aim of the curriculum is to provide a wider and more flexible range of subjects. Unlike the English system, the Scottish government only sets guidelines about the curriculum and therefore schools have more flexibility and freedom to make their own decisions regarding how and what to teach.

The curriculum is broken into two broad stages: a general education from early years to the end of S3, and a senior phase for pupils studying for qualifications (from S4 to S6). The broad general education is closely connected to the senior phase and provides a strong foundation for pupils to choose which qualifications best fit their abilities and interests.

School starting age in Scotland

In Scotland, children born between March and August start school in the August following their fifth birthday. For children born between September and February, they begin school in the August prior to their fifth birthday.

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