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A World of opportunity - A Guide to Education and Training in Scotland


A Guide to Education and Training in Scotland

part two

Scotland's education system is supported by a unique network of independent agencies and organisations. Each of these centres of excellence can provide information, advice and links with others. International enquiries are welcome whether they are from students, companies or educational institutes

Part Two describes how the system of education is delivered in Scotland, from pre-school to higher education and beyond. An important concept in Scottish Education is partnership. We aim to achieve consensus among the many partners in the delivery of education. Key to this are the agencies and organisations outside the Scottish Executive itself but with a crucial role to play. They are described in the second part of this section.


The basic legal framework for education in Scotland consists of a series of Education (Scotland) Acts which apply specifically to Scotland alone. These Acts are supplemented be regulations which have the force of law. Since devolution, new legislation dealing with education is a matter for the Scottish Parliament. In Scotland the Education Acts are mainly concerned with the organisation and administration of education. Regulations deal with more detailed matters. Curriculum is not governed by legislation in Scotland, with the exception of religious education.

The Scottish Executive

The Scottish Executive Education Department (SEED) and the Scottish Executive Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Department (SEELLD) administer education and training policy in Scotland.

Local Authorities

Since 1996, the functions of local government have been the responsibility of 32 single tier councils. They are widely different in size and character, but each is responsible for the delivery of services, including education.

School Boards

It is Government policy that there should be close co-operation between schools and the parents of their pupils. School Boards are the official forum for contact between parents and the individual school. The School Board consists of elected parents and staff members, with members co-opted from the local community.


The Scottish Executive supports education and community education as an element in the grant which it pays annually to local authorities. The actual amount allocated to education by the local authority is their own responsibility. Much day to day expenditure is delegated to schools.

Further education is funded by the Scottish Executive through the Scottish Further Education Funding Council (SFEFC), and higher education is funded by the Scottish Executive through the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC). Further and higher education institutions also earn income from services like training and research.


All three and four year olds in Scotland have access to free, quality pre-school education. A good quality pre-school experience:

  • helps children to learn as they play
  • builds on learning that takes place in the home
  • develops essential skills which they will rely on in later life
  • prepares children for primary school

A curriculum framework helps pre-school centres plan activities that promote children's development and learning in the following areas:

  • emotional, personal and social development
  • communication and language
  • knowledge and understanding of the world
  • expressive and aesthetic development
  • physical development and movement



Primary school classes are organised by age from Primary 1 (age 5) to Primary 7 (age 12). All primary schools contain both boys and girls. Each class normally has one teacher who teaches all or most of the curriculum.

There is no statutory curriculum in Scotland but the Scottish Executive offers guidance in the form of the 5-14 programme. This is divided into a number of broad areas and its aim is to provide breadth, balance, coherence and progression. The balance of the programme is as follows:





Environmental Studies, society, science and technology


Expressive arts and physical education


Religious and moral education (including health education and personal and social development)


Flexible time


Primary schools vary considerably in size, from those in rural areas with fewer than 20 pupils and one teacher to those with over 500 pupils and several classes at each age. In some small schools, mostly those in rural areas, classes will contain children of several different ages.



Secondary education in Scotland extends from age 12 to 18 but is not compulsory after the age of 16.

Lower secondary education (age 12 to 16) is divided into two stages - the first two years (S1 and S2) provide a general education based on the 5-14 programme and the second two years (S3 and S4) contain specialist elements and vocational education.

Upper secondary education (age 16 to 18 - S5 and S6) covers the final two years of secondary school and prepares pupils for vocational training, employment or higher education.

The main subjects taught at secondary school are the same at each stage but beyond these it is up to the school to decide. At the end of S4 pupils usually take Standard Grade examinations.

National qualifications are available at five levels in upper secondary. They bring together vocational and academic subjects, have core skills built into them and are designed to encourage progression.

Secondary schools vary in size from under 100 to around 2000. The majority of Scottish secondary schools have between 400 and 1,200 pupils.



Education can be provided outside the state system. Only a very small proportion of children and young people in Scotland (approximately 4%) attend independent schools and parents pay for their children to attend.

Independent schools in Scotland vary enormously in size, ranging from fewer than 20 pupils to over 2,000. Some offer a complete education from pre-school through to 18; others are for primary or secondary pupils only.

Most of the larger independent schools are members of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS) in which they can come together to discuss matters of common interest and to organise training for their staff and governing bodies. There is no legal requirement for independent schools to follow a particular teaching programme.

Independent schools are inspected by HM Inspectorate of Education in the same way as state schools.



Further Education (FE) is central to lifelong learning in Scotland. Scotland's 46 colleges promote wider access for all and work with employers and partners to deliver innovative learning and training opportunities to help individuals, communities and employers maximise their potential, develop and grow.

A typical FE college offers a wide range of courses at non-advanced and advanced levels. The FE curriculum spans much of the range of learning needs, from general educational programmes through to highly specialised vocational education and training. The level of provision ranges from essential life skills and provision for students with learning difficulties through to degree level and post-graduate work.

The courses are mainly vocational in nature and include both theoretical and practical work. Courses are mostly composed of units tailored to the needs of particular employment sectors or to individual student needs.

Assessment is mainly by the Scottish Qualification Authority. The majority of courses lead to the SQA National Certificate or to a SVQ. FE colleges also offer SQA National Qualifications and Scottish Group Awards and at advance level courses such as HNC and HND and some colleges also offer degrees. Types of course available at FE colleges include:

  • vocational and general education
  • link courses for school pupils
  • industrial pre-employment training
  • training for employees
  • courses in the work place
  • evening classes, vocational and non-vocational
  • distance learning
  • community education
  • access courses
  • English as a foreign language


There are 20 higher education institutions in Scotland. 14 universities and 6 other institutions. Entry usually depends on a group of passes in national examinations set by the SQA but greater provision for mature students has led to a development of special access courses with guaranteed places for successful participants. Applicants from international students are welcome.

Higher education institutions provide, sub-degree courses, first degree courses, courses for the education and training of teachers, courses for post-graduate studies at Masters and Doctorate levels and courses at higher level in preparation for a qualification from a professional body. Higher education institutions are also expected to carry out research.

In Scotland the normal pattern is for students studying for first degrees in the majority of subject areas to spend three academic years in attaining an Ordinary (ie General) degree or four years in attaining an Honours degree. This involves greater specialisation. In some faculties, for example in medicine, courses are traditionally longer. Degrees awarded in Scotland are recognised throughout the UK and across the world.

The universities offer a wide range of courses including arts, social sciences and humanities, medicine, law, sciences, technology and engineering. The other institutions specialise in particular areas such as health care, art and design, music and drama, textile technology, agriculture or teacher training. Scotland's characteristic breadth of study is reflected in the variety of courses which can be taken as part of a degree course.

HE institutions also offer courses in the following areas:

  • pre-course English as a foreign language
  • sub-degree courses
  • first degree courses
  • education and training of teachers
  • taught post-graduate programmes for Masters degrees
  • courses preparing for qualification awarded by professional body
  • research projects
  • supervision of research programmes for Doctorates