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


A Guide to Education and Training in Scotland

Secondary School

Qualifications for life

Changes in the secondary school examination system aim to increase opportunities and raise expectations for all students preparing for work, college or university. From 1999 the new unified 'Higher Still' courses and qualifications enable students to gain core skills for a continually changing job market, to combine academic and vocational courses and to learn at a pace which suits them.

Secondary schools are the route to work and continuing education whether pupils leave at 16 or stay until the end of sixth year. Regardless of size, schools themselves are becoming increasingly business-like. Evaluation, forward planning and management of resources are major responsibilities for secondary head teachers and senior staff. Managing pupil assessment is increasingly important in the award of qualifications.


Each school creates its own curriculum with advice from the Scottish Executive Education Department (SEED), local authority education departments and specialist agencies. Courses vary greatly but pupils up to 16 study English, mathematics, science, one modern foreign language and a social subject. In 5th and 6th years the level of study rises and expands to include a wide range of modular courses in vocational subjects.


  • Scottish Certificate of Education (Standard Grade): Gained after 4th year. Three levels - Foundation, General and Credit - awarded by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, using external examination with some internal assessment.
  • Higher and advanced Higher: Lead on from Standard Grade to be taken in 5th and 6th year. Five levels - Access, Intermediate 1 and Intermediate 2, Higher and Advanced Higher using both internal and external assessment.


A small number of independent secondary schools, almost all boarding, also follow the English 'Public School' system with English GCSE examinations at age 16 leading to GCE Advanced Level.

Statistics (2000-2001)

387 publicly funded secondary schools

244,111 lower secondary pupils

73,593 upper secondary pupils

975m overall expenditure

57 independent schools

11,850 lower secondary pupils

5,687 upper secondary pupils