Education in Scotland
Learn more about Education in Scotland
| Educational oversight |
Minister for Education and
Minister for Enterprise and
| Scottish Executive|
|National education budget||£4.18bn 1 (£820 per capita) (2005)|
|Primary language(s) of education||English and Scottish Gaelic|
| National system|
| Literacy (2005 est)|
• Secondary diploma
• Post-secondary diploma
| 1Expenditure on Pre-school, Primary and Secondary education only |
3 2004, All further and higher education institutions includes overseas students.
Scotland has a long history of universal provision of public education, and the Scottish education system is distinctly different from other parts of the United Kingdom. Traditionally, the Scottish system has emphasised breadth across a range of subjects, while the English, Welsh and Northern Irish system has 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 than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK, though it is often possible for students to take a 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.
Qualifications at the secondary school and post-secondary (further education) level are provided by the Scottish Qualifications Authority and delivered through various schools, colleges and other centres. Political responsibility for education at all levels is vested in the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive Education and Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning Departments
Public 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 (usually 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 inspect care standards in pre-school provision; Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education for pre-school, primary, education, further and community education; with the Quality Assurance Agency Scotland responsible for higher education.
 School years
Children start primary school aged between four and a half and five and a half depending on when the child's birthday falls. As the Scottish school year means all those born between March and February of the following year may be in the same year group. Children born between March and August would start school at five years old and those born between September and February start school at age four-and-a-half. The Scottish system is the most flexible in the UK, however, as parents of children born between September and February can opt to hold their child back a year and let them start school when they are five-and-a-half instead. This usually allows those not ready for formal education to have an extra year at nursery school however funding is only available for children born in January and February. Pupils remain at primary school for seven years completing Primary One to Seven. Then aged eleven or twelve, they start secondary school for a compulsory four years with the final two years being optional. In Scotland, school pupils sit Standard Grade exams at the age of fifteen/sixteen, sometimes earlier, for up to eight subjects including compulsory exams in English, mathematics, a foreign language, a science subject and a social subject it is now required by the Scottish Parliament 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 grade), after which students may choose to remain at school and study for Access, Intermediate or Higher Grade and Advanced Higher exams. 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-Levels instead of Higher Grade and Advanced Higher exams.
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, Wales and Northern Ireland|
|Nursery school||3 - 5||Reception|
|Primary 1||4 - 6||Year 1|
|Primary 2||5 - 7||Year 2|
|Primary 3||6 - 8||Year 3|
|Primary 4||7 - 9||Year 4|
|Primary 5||8 - 10||Year 5|
|Primary 6||9 - 11||Year 6|
|Primary 7||10 - 12||Year 7|
|Secondary 1 (First Year)||11 - 13||Year 8|
|Secondary 2 (Second Year)||12 - 14||Year 9|
|Secondary 3 (Third Year)||13 - 15||Year 10|
|Secondary 4 (Fourth Year)||14 - 16||Year 11|
|Secondary 5 (Fifth Year)||15 - 17|| Year 12|
|Secondary 6 (Sixth Year)||16 - 18|| Year 13|
Sixth form colleges do not have an equivalent in Scotland; 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 Access, Intermediate, Higher or Advanced Higher courses, further helping teenagers access university.
 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 dependent on date of birth. For children born between 1 March and 30 September it is 31 May of that year. For children born between 1 October and 28 February it is the last day of the December term of the school session in which they are 16.
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.
 School qualifications
The vast majority of Scottish pupils take Scottish Qualifications Certificate qualifications provided by the Scottish Qualifications Authority also know as the SQA for short. Generally, most pupils take Standard Grades in S4, Highers in S5 and S6 and, for those who wish to remain at school for the final year, more highers and Advanced Highers (formerly CSYS) in S6. 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. Those who want 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.
 Access to university
Children may attend Scottish universities directly after receiving their Higher results -- potentially at the age of 16½. Therefore two sets of national examinations are held. The first set, the Standard Grade examinations, take place in the Fourth year of secondary school and show basic education level. The second set, the Higher examinations take place in the Fifth and Sixth years. A third level, Advanced Higher, replaced the old Certificate of Sixth Year Studies in 2001. It is sometimes taken by students intending to study at an English university, and has often given students holding a relevant CSYS or Advanced Higher the opportunity to pass straight into second year at a Scottish university, although this has become less common as numbers of students attending university have risen.
During the medieval period Scotland followed the typical pattern of European education with the Roman Catholic church organising schooling. Church choir song schools and grammar schools were founded in all the main burghs and some small towns, early examples including the High School of Glasgow in 1124 and the High School of Dundee in 1239. The foundation of the University of St. Andrews in 1413 was followed by Glasgow in 1451 and Aberdeen in 1495. The Education Act 1496 introduced compulsory education for the eldest sons of nobles.
 Development of universal education
The Protestant Reformation brought the reshaping of the national Church of Scotland and in January 1561 John Knox and a small group of clergymen set out a national programme for spiritual reform, including the "virtuous education and godly upbringing of the youth of this Realm" with a schoolmaster to be appointed to every church. "For the poor, if need be, education may be given free; for the rich, it is only necessary to see that education is given under proper supervision." Reformation concepts such as the priesthood of all believers, the importance of the individual conscience, and the supremacy of Scripture, made widespread literacy important. Unlike the Reformation in England which had been imposed by the monarch, the Scottish Kirk had not been reformed under the leadership of the crown, and tensions would continue. Late in 1561 the Privy council made a financial settlement which fell far short of the Church's hopes, but the intent was implemented as resources permitted. Early progress was made in reforming the universities, and new universities were formed, at Edinburgh in 1582, and Marischal College, Aberdeen in 1593. In the burghs the old schools were maintained, with the song schools and a number of new foundations becoming reformed grammar schools or ordinary parish schools. Here and there in the countryside parish schools were set up, often with the minister also serving as schoolmaster, who was commonly called the "Dominie". At their best, the curriculum included catechism, Latin, French, Classical literature and sports.
In 1616 an act in Privy council commanded every parish to establish a school "where convenient means may be had", and when the Parliament of Scotland ratified this in 1633 it introduced a tax on local "heritors" (landowners) to provide the necessary endowment. A loophole which allowed evasion of this tax was closed in an Act of 1646 which established a solid institutional foundation for schools on Covenanter principles. Although the Restoration brought a reversion to the 1633 position, in 1696 new legislation restored the provisions of 1646 together with means of enforcement "more suitable to the age". The Education Act of 1696, which continued to regulate Scottish elementary education until 1872, could be invoked to set up a school and ensure continuing payment of the schoolmaster's salary. Schooling was not free, but the support from tax on "heritors" in country districts and municipal funds in burghs kept fees low, with it being left to the kirk-sessions aided by charity to provide the fees for the poorest as well as exerting moral pressure for them to attend.
 Golden age
By the end of the 17th century a considerable proportion of the population was literate and the education system had been developed to a point considerably in advance of anything known before, well ahead of England or most other European countries. School life began at the age of five, though many did not arrive until they were seven and may at first have attended an unofficial dame-school. It was meant to continue for five years, after which some pupils would go on to a larger burgh school or possibly straight to university, but many poorer parents could not let their child stay beyond the age of eight unless he won a bursary. School was attended six days a week for ten to twelve hours a day, starting at 6 a.m. with one hour breaks for breakfast and lunch. Two or three "play-days" each week allowed for bodily exercise. When in class all subjects incorporated piety, with the Bible as the reading text. All learnt reading and writing, Latin was taught to some older children and arithmetic was taught in the burghs. Discipline was maintained by the tawse. Though the children of the nobility were often educated at home by tutors, "by far the greatest part"  of the Scottish gentry sent their sons to the local schools with their tenants' children.
The 18th century brought a golden age of Scottish education, contributing to the intellectual advances of the Scottish enlightenment and the industrial revolution, as well as allowing significant migration elsewhere of professionally trained or commercially talented Scots. The universities also attracted English students, particularly Nonconformists who were excluded from the two universities in England, Oxford and Cambridge, which required their students to sign up to the Anglican faith. The Scottish universities gained a better reputation in fields like medicine, and the University of Edinburgh grew from 400 students at the start of the century to 2,000 by 1815. Many towns vaunted the quality of their schools, for example Crieff in the Scottish Highlands which grew from a village as parents moved to be near its grammar school. In Edinburgh there was a surge in provision around 1760, with numerous private schools opening, the council founding four supplementary "English schools", and in particular the Royal High School doubling in size to be claimed as the largest school in Britain around 1790.
By the end of the century the legal requirement of a school for each parish had largely been met, but was proving inadequate because of the physical extent of some parishes, or because of large and increasing populations. Each parish school usually had one schoolmaster, who would take fifty or sixty pupils. Under these circumstances the kirk-session would bring little pressure for children to attend school for more than four years or even, sometimes, for girls to attend school at all. The gap was increasingly filled by private schools funded entirely by fees per pupil, known as "adventure schools", which could be shut down by the kirk-session for incompetence or doctrinal unorthodoxy. Even in the 1690s such schools were being used to supplement the parish schools, with the kirk paying the fees for poor pupils. An "adventure school" opened in Alloway in 1765 taught Robert Burns to read and write. There was also a contribution from charitable endowments, often from local landowners, some providing cheap schools for girls to learn to read, spin, sew and knit. In the Scottish Highlands as well as problems of distance and physical isolation, most people spoke Gaelic which few teachers and ministers could understand. Here the Kirk's parish schools were supplemented by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, and after 1811 by the Gaelic Societies of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness. Their aim was to teach English language and end Roman Catholicism associated with rebellious Jacobitism. Though the Gaelic Society schools taught the Bible in Gaelic, the overall effect contributed to the erosion of Highland culture.
Many of the teachers in private and charitable schools were female, and the introduction from England of the pupil-teacher system in 1846 also facilitated the entry of women into teaching, but was resented by dominies and in 1847 the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) was set up to bolster their professional status.
 Compulsory education
Education finally became compulsory for all children aged between 5 and 13 with the Education (Scotland) Act 1872. The Scottish Education Department in London took over from the Church of Scotland. Burgh as well as parish schools now came under School Boards run by local committees, many new Board schools were built, and larger School Boards established "higher grade" (secondary) schools as a cheaper alternative to the burgh schools. The Act included the statement that "Every school under the management of the school board of a parish shall be deemed a parish school, and every school under the management of the school board of a burgh shall be deemed a burgh school, and all such schools are hereby declared to be public schools within the meaning of this Act.", a usage of the term "public school" that has continued in Scotland despite awareness of the English usage of the term to mean a kind of private school.
The leaving age was raised to 14 in 1883, and the Scottish Education Department introduced a Leaving Certificate Examination in 1888 to set national standards for secondary education. Until 1890 school fees still had to be paid. In 1904 it became possible to learn Gaelic as a subject in its own right rather than as a means of acquiring English.
Roman Catholic schools were set up funded by charity, remaining outwith the national system. The Education (Scotland) Act 1918 renamed the Scottish Education Department and introduced state funding of Catholic schools which kept their distinct religious education, access to schools by priests and requirement that school staff be acceptable to the Church. The same Act gave Gaelic a statutory place as a "subject", though not as a language on an equal footing.
The Leaving Certificate instituted in 1888 continued in secondary education until its replacement by the Scottish Certificate of Education, "O grade" and Highers, in 1962. Discipline by the tawse was outlawed in 1986. In 1999 the new Scottish Executive set up an Education Department and an Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning Department, which together took over the work of the Scottish Education Department.
- In Aberdeen:
- In Dundee:
- In Edinburgh:
- In Glasgow:
- In Inverness:
- In Stirling:
- In Paisley:
- In St Andrews:
- In Ayr:
- As distance learning:
 External links
- Silicon Glen, Scotland - Intro to Scottish Education
- Decline of Gaelic
- Social Change in the History of Education (.doc format)
- The setting up of the Scottish Leaving Certificate
- Smout, T.C., A History of the Scottish People, Fontana Press 1985, ISBN 0-00-686027-3
 See also
- Association of Educational Development and Improvement Professionals
- Comprehensive school
- School Board
- Education in England
- Education in Northern Ireland
- Education in Wales
- Education in the United Kingdom
- List of further and higher education colleges in Scotland