Scotland from POERUP

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This is an exact copy of Subsection 2.5 "Education in Scotland" from the POERUP page

(Copy taken on 29 April 2013)

Education in Scotland

Scotland has a long history of universal provision of public education, and the Scottish education system is distinctly different from other parts of the UK. The Scotland Act 1998 gives 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 emphasized 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.

Schools in Scotland

Types of schools in Scotland

According to the report Understanding of the UK education system there are primarily three types of schools in Scotland [9]:

  • Denominational schools: As a result of the Education Act 1918, separate denominational state schools were also established. The vast majority of denominational state schools are Roman Catholic but there are also a number of Scottish Episcopal schools. Catholic schools are fully funded by the Scottish Government and administered by the Education and Lifelong Learning Directorate. There are specific legal provisions to ensure the promotion of a Catholic ethos in such schools. Applicants for positions in the areas of Religious Education, Guidance or Senior Management must be approved by the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, which also appoints a chaplain to each of its schools. There is also one Jewish state primary school. These denominational schools are run in the same way as other education authority schools, except that teachers may be selected on the basis of religious beliefs as well as educational qualifications. Special time may be set aside for religious services and an unpaid religious supervisor, possibly the local priest, will report to the education authority on the religious instruction in the school.
  • Local schools: The education authority decides what is taught at the school and how pupils are examined and assessed. It allows parents to choose which school their children attend and publishes information on each school in its area. Each education authority school should have a school board - made up of parents, teachers and members of the local community - that can have wide powers including involvement in recruitment of staff below the level of head teacher.
  • Special schools: A special school is designed to meet the needs of those who cannot attend ordinary school and have ‘recorded’ special needs. The teachers and other staff are usually specially trained in appropriate methods of teaching and care. A small number of children in special schools attend on a residential basis so that they can receive full-time care.

Overview of schools in Scotland

All 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 the National Guidelines and National Priorities by Learning and Teaching Scotland.

In 2010 there were 92,030 children in 2,586 pre-schools, 365,326 pupils in 2,099 primary schools, 301,014 pupils in 376 secondary schools, and 6,800 pupils in 163 special schools. The proportion of pupils in special schools continues to be about 1%, with approximately 1.2% of pupils spending all or most of their time in special schools or classes.

There is a decreasing trend in the number of schools and pupils since 2003, with pupil numbers having fallen by a further 0.5% since 2009.

The total number of teachers in all sectors or visiting specialists was 52,188, which is 796 fewer than the 2009 figure of 52,984. The pupil teacher ratio in schools increased from 13.2 in 2009 to 13.3 in 2010. Full statistical tables can be found at School Education Statistics.

Pupils usually start primary school at age five, although there are some younger pupils. They attend primary school for seven years and are usually 11 or 12 when they start high school. They can leave school after turning 16. This is usually after fourth year. However, many children choose to stay on to complete fifth and sixth year. In Scotland, pupils sit Standard Grades instead of GCSEs and Highers instead of A levels.

There are 376 state secondary schools. There is not a set name for secondary schools in Scotland, but whatever they might be called, with just a few specific exceptions in mainly rural or island authorities, they are all fully-comprehensive non-selective state secondary schools. Amongst the state-run secondary schools:

  • 188 are nominally High Schools: these are spread across the country
  • 131 are nominally Academies, spread across the country but are in high concentration in North-East Scotland and Ayrshire. There are also three Royal Academies, in Irvine, North Ayrshire, Tain and Inverness
  • 15 are nominally Secondary Schools
  • 14 are nominally Grammar Schools
  • 13 are Simply Schools: cater for Primary as well as Secondary school children. They are found in rural areas or islands
  • eight are Junior High Schools: are found exclusively in the Orkney and Shetland Islands. They cater for school children from the first year of Primary (P1) to the fourth year of Secondary (S4)
  • three are Colleges: Madras College (in St Andrews, Fife), Marr College (in Troon, South Ayrshire) and St Joseph's College (in Dumfries, Dumfries and Galloway)

Other schools include The Community School of Auchterarder, Perth and Kinross; The Nicolson Institute, Stornoway, Western Isles; North Walls Community School on Hoy, Orkney Islands and Wester Hailes Education Centre, Wester Hailes, Edinburgh. All of these are, equally, fully comprehensive non-selective schools, differing only in designation from all other state secondary schools in Scotland.

School curriculum in Scotland

According to the report Understanding of the UK education system the curriculum in Scotland is different from the National Curriculum used in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Scottish curriculum is divided into the 5-14 Curriculum and the Standard Grade for 14 to 16 year olds. After Standard Grade pupils have the opportunity to take Intermediate, Higher and Advanced Higher qualifications [9].

The year groups in Scotland are divided into primary (P) and secondary (S), with the 5-14 curriculum covering P1 to P7 and S1 to S2, the Standard Grade programme in S3 and S4, Higher Grade in S5 (but also available at S6) and Advanced Higher taken by the most able pupils in S6. The 5-14 Curriculum is divided into six attainment levels - A to F. Assessment of pupils’ attainment levels is taken by individuals or groups when the teacher considers them to be ready; whole classes or year groups do not sit tests at this grade [9].

The Learning and Teaching Scotland website, renamed Education Scotland from July 2011 gives details of the Scottish secondary curriculum.

New National Qualifications called National 4 and National 5 will be introduced. They will replace a number of current National Qualifications: Standard Grade General, Standard Grade Credit, Intermediate 1 and Intermediate 2. Standard Grade Foundation will be replaced by the updated Access 3. Revisions will also be made to the current Access 1, Access 2, Higher and Advanced Higher qualifications.

The new qualifications will be phased in between session 2013/14 and session 2015/16, with the new curriculum introduced to S1 pupils from 2010/11. The new National 4 and National 5 qualifications will be introduced in 2013/14, as will the new Access qualifications. The new Higher will follow in 2014/15 while the new Advanced Higher will be available from 2015/16 onwards.

The last certification of Standard Grade qualifications will be in 2013/14. Access 1-3, National 4 and National 5 will be ‘dual run’ alongside Intermediate 1 and Intermediate 2 in 2014/15. The new Higher will be introduced and ‘dual run’ alongside current Higher, Intermediate 1 and Intermediate 2 in 2015/16.

Literacy and Numeracy Units will be available as freestanding Units at SCQF levels 3, 4 and 5. These Units will also be available to adult learners. There will be mandatory Units in Access 3 and National 4 English and Mathematics Courses and National 5 Lifeskills Mathematics. At National 5, some, but not all, literacy and numeracy skills will be included within English and Mathematics Courses. These skills will not be separately certificated by SQA.

School administration and finance in Scotland

Schools currently receive individual budgets annually from the Scottish Government through local authorities, calculated using formulae based on a range of variables to reflect the age range and situation of the school. Guidance is offered on devolved school management of their finances. Gross revenue expenditure for 2008-09 was:

  • Pre-primary education: £3.19 million
  • Primary schools: £1.79 billion
  • Secondary schools: £2.02 billion
  • Special education: £5.09 million
  • Other expenditure: £2.29 million

Total expenditure was £4.87 billion.

Following a report commissioned by the Scottish Government it is likely that some changes will be made. Changes are likely to include:

  • Cluster level management of budgets, to enable groups of schools - such as primary and secondary schools which share a catchment area - to manage their budgets together. These clusters should also be able to determine their own management structure
  • A national formula for the distribution of money to schools
  • Revisions to the current guidance on devolved school management to set out the roles and responsibilities of schools, local authorities and national government, with new guidance to make sure that schools have more consistent autonomy to manage the budgets that are central to fulfilling their role
  • Schools should not have to deal with budgets over which they cannot exercise control
  • School budgets should be expressed as a cash sum
  • Schools should receive three year budgets aligned to school improvement plans

Further and Higher Education in Scotland

Scotland has fourteen campus-based universities, the Open University in Scotland, two art schools, one conservatoire, the University of the Highlands and Islands and Scotland’s Rural University College (SRUC), a merger of all four agricultural colleges, which deliver both further and higher education. Funding is provided by the Scottish Funding Council [1].

The University of the Highlands and Islands has its administrative base in Inverness; it delivers both higher and further education and eight of Scotland’s further education colleges are federated members of it.

Higher Education in Scotland is also delivered via almost all of the further education colleges, with the exception of Newbattle Abbey, which is a college of adult education . The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) funds 26 further education colleges in Scotland [2]: as with English further education colleges, there has been a trend for smaller colleges to merge and form larger organisations and this has accelerated from 2010 to 2013, with 26 of the former 43 colleges merging in to 9 much larger colleges. Scotland’s government is also creating 12 Regional Boards of Education, which will include all schools and colleges within their geographical areas within their planning and funding remit.

The total funding allocated to colleges in 2011-12 is £545 million by SFC, but this is being reduced in cash terms by £24 million in 2013, whilst higher education funding receives a full inflation increase and schools funding is maintained in cash terms .

College allocations are split into two main categories: general funding and strategic funding. General funding includes recurrent teaching grant, fee waiver grant and student support grant. Further Education (FE) Funding is responsible for managing these elements of the general funding category.

The SFC also allocates funds to influence the geographical supply of education. This includes providing additional funding to the central region, the south region, the west highlands, Lanarkshire and Dunbartonshire. Full-time FE education is free to those deemed legally resident. It is also free to students on discrete courses or who are on certain benefits such as DLA, incapacity benefit etc. Part-time FE education is means tested. Once colleges have submitted their final data, SFC will aim to settle the cost of fee waivers in full or claw back any unused funds.

E-learning in Scotland

For more information about e-learning initiatives in schools, colleges and universities in Scotland, please go to Re.ViCa/VISED wiki

Quality procedures in Scotland


Qualifications at the secondary school and post-secondary (further education) level are provided by the Scottish Qualifications Authority - SQA, 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 Scottish Education and Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning Departments. SQA’s functions are set out in the Education (Scotland) Act 1996 as amended by the Scottish Qualifications Act 2002. SQA has two main roles: accreditation, and awarding qualifications.

SQA accreditation:

  • Authorises all vocational qualifications (other than degrees) delivered in Scotland
  • Proves education and training establishments which plan to enter people for these qualifications

SQA awarding body:

  • Devises and develops qualifications
  • Validates qualifications (makes sure they are well written and meet the needs of learners and tutors)
  • Reviews qualifications to ensure they are up to date
  • Arranges for, assists in, and carries out, the assessment of people taking SQA qualifications
  • Quality-assures education and training establishments which offer SQA qualifications
  • Issues certificates to candidates

Within these roles SQA offers a range of services for businesses and training providers, ranging from course and centre approval through customised awards, to endorsement, credit rating and licensing services.

The main further education qualification framework is provided by SVQs - Scottish Vocational Qualifications . These are parallel to English NVQs - National Vocational Qualifications, and are managed by the SQA.


Inspections and audits of educational standards in Scotland are conducted by three bodies:

  • Care Commission, now Care Inspectorate from 1 April 2011, inspects care standards in pre-school provision.
  • Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education - HMIE inspects for pre-school, primary, secondary, further and community education.
  • Scottish office of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education - QAA Scotland is responsible for higher education.

Post-16 education in Scotland is also overseen by the Scottish Funding Council – SFC.

HMIE (Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education) is responsible for inspecting all non-university education provision, including schools and colleges. The Inspection section of the Education Scotland website describes the basis and process of inspection as follows:

  • Having all learners or users at the heart of inspection and review
  • Independence, impartiality and accountability
  • Improvement and capacity-building
  • Building on self-evaluation
  • Observing practice and experiences directly: focusing on outcomes and impact
  • Transparency and mutual respect
  • Partnership working with the users of HMIE services and other providers/scrutiny bodies
  • Proportionality, responsiveness and assessment of risk
  • Best value
  • Equality and diversity

The recently completed inspection cycle covered every local authority primary school over a seven year period and every local authority secondary school over a six year period. This has been followed by annual inspections of a sample of 400 schools each year, to provide a national overview of the quality of school education in Scotland. The HMIE gives detailed guidance for inspection at all levels: pre-school, primary schools, secondary schools, special schools, and independent schools.

The current (2008-2012) framework for college inspections is described in ( The quality framework addresses four high level questions, arranged under three key principles:

  • High Quality Learning: How well are learners progressing and achieving relevant, high quality outcomes? How effective are the college's learning and teaching processes?
  • Learner engagement: How well are learners engaged in enhancing their own learning and the life and work of the college?
  • Quality Culture: How well is the college led and how well is it enhancing the quality of its services for learners and other stakeholders?

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