Scotland

Most children in Scotland attend their local school, which are for the most part are non-denominational, fully comprehensive, non-selective (there are a few Roman Catholic schools and one Jewish school). There's no league tables, but Education Scotland provides results of Nationals and Highers where you can compare schools.

First and second year (S1 and S2) of secondary school provides a continuation of the Curriculum for Excellence started in primary school, and by S3 and S4 students choose which subjects they wish to study, with certain compulsory subjects, such as Maths and English. These culminate in National 1-5 which take two years to complete with an exam at the end of S4. Most students will take approximately 8 subjects.  

The senior phase refers to S4 to S6 when pupils are between the ages of 15-17 when they build up a portfolio of qualifications. It is the stage of education at which the relationship between the curriculum and National Qualifications becomes of key significance. Qualifications are an essential part of assessing progress in the senior phase. Nationals can be undertaken at different levels depending on a student's competence and they can continue with increasing their performance in National exams or move onto Highers and Advanced Highers. Pupils can also choose to undertake SVQs. For more information about Scottish qualifications, please see our qualifications pages. 

Progression in Qualifications
S4S5S6
National 3 National 4 National 5
National 4  National 5 Highers
National 5 Highers Advanced Highers

Once students have completed their Nationals they can leave school after 31st May if they turn 16 between 1st March and 30th September, while if they turn 16 between 1st October and the end of February they can leave at the start of the Christmas holidays in that school year.

Pupils can go to university at the end of S5, as Highers provide the entry requirements for Scottish universities where degrees are normally four years long; however it is more common for students to remain until S6, taking further Highers and/or taking Advanced Highers. Scottish universities generally ask for four or five highers, while universities in the rest of the UK will most probably ask for five highers plus a couple of advanced highers. 

Curriculum for Excellence

Scotland has its own qualification and curriculum framework that are separate from the one set for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scottish schools follow the curriculum called Curriculum for Excellence(CfE) which aims to develop the attributes, knowledge and skills they will need to flourish in life, learning and work.

The knowledge, skills and attributes learners will develop will allow them to demonstrate four key capacities – to be successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.

The purpose of the CfE framework is to ensure that children and young people are exposed to a curriculum that includes a range of features at different stages of their school life; this includes:

  • a curriculum which is coherent from 3 to 18 
  • a broad general education, including the experiences and outcomes which are well planned across all the curriculum areas, from early years through to S3
  • a senior phase of education after S3 which provides opportunity to obtain qualifications as well as to continue to develop the four capacities 
  • opportunities for developing skills for learning, skills for life and skills for work with a continuous focus on literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing 
  • personal support to enable them to gain as much as possible from the opportunities which CfE can provide 
  • support in moving into positive and sustained destinations beyond school.

The CfE framework provides guidelines about the curriculum, but schools and colleges are given the flexibility to organise, schedule and deliver experiences and outcomes in ways that meet the needs of all learners,but also provides reassurance about consistency where necessary. 

LevelSchool Year
Early The pre-school years and Primary 1 (P1), or later for some.
First To the end of Primary 4 (P4), but earlier or later for some.
Second To the end of Primary 7 (P7), but earlier or later for some.
Third and Fourth Secondary 1 (S1) to Secondary (S3), but earlier for some. The fourth level broadly equates to Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework level 4.
  The fourth level experiences and outcomes are intended to provide possibilities for choice and young people's programmes will not include all of the fourth level outcomes.
Senior phase Secondary 4 (S4) to Secondary (S6), and college or other means of study.

The path most children and young people are expected to follow through the levels reflects the stages of maturation of children and young people, and the changing ways in which they engage with learning as they develop. Some children and young people will start learning at these levels earlier and others later, depending upon individual needs and aptitudes.

It is the responsibility of schools and their partners to bring the experiences and outcomes together and apply these to design programmes for learning across a broad curriculum, covering science, languages, mathematics, social studies (including Scottish  history), expressive arts, health and wellbeing, religious and moral education and technology.

Assessment

Assessment is an integral part of learning and teaching. It  helps to provide an emerging picture of a young person’s learning and achievements as he or she develops across the four capacities - to be successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.

Unlike England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Scotland does not assess primary and secondary students in Key Stages, and there are no Standard Attaintment Tests (SATs). Teachers assess constantly as part of daily learning and teaching. They do this, for example, by watching and listening to learners carrying out tasks, by looking at what they write and make and by considering how they answer questions. They get to know their learners well, build up a profile of their progress, strengths and needs and involve them in planning what they need to learn next. 

From time to time teachers also take stock of their learners' progress and achievements in order to be able to plan ahead and to record and report on progress.

Taking stock of learners' progress and achievements is particularly important at transitions. Therefore, well-planned and effective transition arrangements are fundamental to maintaining children’s and young people’s progression within CfE. Transition include:

  • pre-school to primary
  • between stages
  • primary to secondary
  • from additional support for learning units and establishments to mainstream provision
  • from the broad general education at the end of S3 into the senior phase
  • beyond school to positive and sustained destinations such as employment and further and
  • higher education

Reporting on Progress

Reporting on progress provides parents with regular information about their children's strengths and development needs, an opportunity to discuss with their children their progress in different aspects of the curriculum and a chance to give their views on their children's progress. It also allows teachers to respond, helping parents to understand how they can support their children to develop their learning further. Learners themselves should be in a good position to contribute to discussions about written reports and about their progress in learning at consultation meetings with parents

Parents will get regular information about their children’s strengths, progress and achievements. This will include brief descriptions of progress across the curriculum areas and through the curriculum levels as well as progress towards qualifications in the senior phase. In addition to individual reports on the progress of the child or young person, parents will receive information on:

  • how well all learners and particular groups of learners are achieving;
  • the performance of children and young people in the school in relation to expected levels at particular stages in key areas such as literacy and numeracy; and how the school is applying national standards and expectations.
  • and how the school is applying national standards and expectations.
England

 

In England schools most follow the 'National Curriculum' (with the exception of independent schools) which is the agenda for teaching and learning in schools. It established the subjects taught and the knowledge, skills and understanding required for each subject. It also sets standards for each subject, outlining targets that children should be encouraged to achieve. It also determines the assessment methods that are used to measure children's progress. 

The National Curriculum is determined and developed by the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA), which is part of the Department for Children, Schools and Family. 

Some schools, such as Academies, teach the National Curriculum alongside a Specialist Schools Programme whereby they offer a broad and balanced curriculum with a focus in one or more areas such as science, arts, sport, business and enterprise or technology. Others, such as Faith Schools, may teach Religious Education according to their own faith. Some independent schools choose to follow the National Curriculum, while others reject it in preference for their own. For more information on what types of secondary schools are available in England, please see our types of schools page. 

Secondary school refers to Years 7-11 when children are between the ages of 11-16, while they are undertaking Key Stages 3 and 4. College refers to when children are 16-18, while they are undertaking Key Stage 5. Children may continue on in the same school after their secondary education, as many secondary schools have a Sixth Form College attached, while they may also choose to attend a Further Education College. 

Schools publish performance tables that show how well pupils in England have done in public examinations at GCSEs at age 16 and A-levels at age 18. Secondary schools are considered to be 'underperforming' if fewer than 40% of their pupils obtain five GCSEs at grade A*-C, including English and maths, and if the school has a below average score for pupils making the expected progress between Key Stage 2 (end of Year 6) and Key Stage 4 (end of Year 11) in English and maths. 

From this year, only a pupil's first attempt at a qualification is included for league tables, which will hopefully stop the practice of schools repeatedly entering pupils for exams in order to boost their rankings. Furthermore, the list of qualifications included has been restricted to those which the government says are of the highest academic quality, while the number of non-GCSEs counting has been capped at two. Many iGCSEs, which several independent schools undertake, have also been phased out and no longer count for league table purposes. 

Furthermore, the tables only show how the previous years performed at the school and as most of the pupils will have started school a few years before taking the exams there may have been changes of staff or policy since. 

However, the tables do not include information about the holistic elements of a school, such as the extra-curricular activities available or details about a school's pastoral care. 

In this way, once you've chosen a few schools, you may want to find the most suitable for your child through open days where you can go and talk to teachers and see how the school runs. 

Age

11-12

12-13

13-14

14-15

15-16

Year Group

Year 7

Year 8

Year 9

Year 10

Year 11

Key Stage

Key Stage 3

Key Stage 4

Academic Qualifications

 

 GCSEs

Vocational Qualifications

 

 Foundation & Higher Diploma

 

 

 BTEC Intro Certificate & Diploma, First Certificate and Diploma

 

 

 NVQ Level 1 & 2

 

Wales

Age

11-12

12-13

13-14

14-15

15-16

Year Group

Year 7

Year 8

Year 9

Year 10

Year 11

Key Stage

Key Stage 3

Key Stage 4

Academic Qualifications

 

 GCSEs

Vocational Qualifications

 

 

 

 

BTEC Intro Certificate & Diploma, First Certificate and Diploma

 

 

 NVQ Level 1 & 2

In Wales schools most follow the 'National Curriculum' (with the exception of independent schools) which is the agenda for teaching and learning in schools. It established the subjects taught and the knowledge, skills and understanding required for each subject. It also sets standards for each subject, outlining targets that children should be encouraged to achieve. It also determines the assessment methods that are used to measure children's progress. 

The National Curriculum is determined and developed by the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Aency (QCDA), which is part of the Department for Children, Schools and Family. 

Some schools, such as Faith Schools, may teach Religious Education according to their own faith. Some independent schools choose to follow the National Curriculum, while others reject it in preference for their own. For more information on what types of secondary schools are available in Wales, please see our types of schools page. 

Secondary school refers to Years 7-11 when children are between the ages of 11-16, while they are undertaking Key Stages 3 and 4. College refers to when children are 16-18, while they are undertaking Key Stage 5. Children may continue on in the same school after their secondary education, as many secondary schools have a Sixth Form College attached, while they may also choose to attend a Further Education College. 

The best way to find a school is to attend and open day and get a feel for the place. 

Northern Ireland

Age

11-12

12-13

13-14

14-15

15-16

Year Group

Year 7

Year 8

Year 9

Year 10

Year 11

Key Stage

Key Stage 3

Key Stage 4

Academic Qualifications

 

 GCSEs

Vocational Qualifications

 

 

 

 

 BTEC Intro Certificate & Diploma, First Certificate and Diploma

 

 

 NVQ Level 1 & 2

All schools in Northern Ireland follow the Northern Ireland Curriculum which is based on the National Curriculum used in England and Wales. At age 11, on entering secondary education, all pupils study a broad base of subjects which include geography, English, mathematics, science, physical education, music and modern languages.

At 14, when pupils choose the subjects they are going to take for GCSE it is compulsory for them to study English, maths and religious studies. 

Grammar schools are still common in Northern Ireland - for more information about how they work and their entrance exams, please see our types of schools page. 

School holidays in Northern Ireland are different to Great Britain, and are more similar to the Republic of Ireland. Northern Irish schools often do not have a full week's holiday for half-terms, and the summer term does not usually have a half-term holiday at all. Christmas and Easter holidays are often less than than two weeks, however the summer is much longer with the end of June, July and August off.