School admissions, curriculum and qualifications

Most children and young people attend schools in a catchment area administered by the local authority.

Placing requests

Parents have the right to express a preference for a particular school that they want their children to attend. Placing requests for schools out of the catchment area must be done via the local authority. Read more: Choosing a school - a guide for parents.

Different processes and deadline dates were in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic but these have been removed. Appeal hearings can still be held by video or telephone conferences or in writing.

Read more:

Curriculum for Excellence

The Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) is the national curriculum used from nursery to secondary school. It was implemented in 2010.

It comprises a broad general education up to the end of S3 (third year in secondary) followed by a senior phase of learning from S4 to S6. Emphasis is placed on inter-disciplinary learning, skills development and encouraging personal achievement.

CfE is intended to foster four capacities in all young people:

  1. successful learners
  2. confident individuals
  3. responsible citizens
  4. effective contributors

Education Scotland oversee the implementation of the curriculum. You can find out more on Education Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence section.

Subject initiatives

We have identified curriculum areas which have specific initiatives and programmes to support learning.

Science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM)

We are improving learning in the STEM subjects so that children and young people have opportunities to gain knowledge and skills and ultimately help grow the economy. Find out more on the STEM education section of this website.

Literacy and numeracy

Literacy is fundamental to all areas of learning, as it unlocks access to the wider curriculum. Numeracy and maths provide the foundation for the rest of STEM and digital skills, as well as being important in their own right.

Literacy and numeracy initiatives include:

Read, Write, Count

This campaign gives parents of children in P1 to P3 access to a range of hints, tips and advice to help them support their child's literacy and numeracy learning in those crucial early years of primary school. It extended into P4 to P7 in areas of high deprivation in 2017. Find out more: Read, Write, Count

First Minister's Reading Challenge

This initiative aims to foster a love of reading among children and young people across Scotland. Research shows that reading for pleasure outweighs the impact of socio-economic background on pupils' success at school and is more important for a child's cognitive development than their parents' level of education. Find out more: First Minister's Reading Challenge

Making maths count

This initiative aims to transform attitudes to maths so that its value is seen as an essential skill for every career. It also aims to improving confidence and fluency in maths for children, young people, parents and all those who deliver maths education to raise attainment and achievement across learning. Find out more:


Learning for sustainability is a cross-curricular approach to build a socially just, sustainable and equitable society. An effective whole school and community approach to learning for sustainability combines global citizenship, sustainable development education and outdoor learning to create coherent, rewarding and transformative learning experiences. 

This policy is in line with the recommendations of the Vision 2030+ report. Our aim is for every school and centre to develop a coherent approach to learning for sustainability that shapes their culture, curriculum and campus and connects them fully to their wider communities.

The Learning for sustainability action plan, launched in June 2019, sets out how we will implement the recommendations of the Vision 2030+ report over the next three to five years.

Find out more:

Music education

There is evidence which indicates that making music can contribute to the enhancement of non-musical skills and lead to other beneficial outcomes.

We produced guidance on instrumental music tuition in schools

This is for local authorities and teachers and was produced in collaboration with Heads of Instrumental Teaching Scotland, Education Institute for Scotland (EIS), Education Scotland and Scottish Association for Music Education (SAME). It offers advice on how best to organise a service providing high quality instrumental tuition, on an equitable basis.

Religious and moral education/religious observance

Religious and moral education and religious education in Roman Catholic schools is an important whole-school activity.

We produce guidance for teachers:

Further information on religious observance is available in the CfE Briefing 16 - religious observance/time for reflection on Education Scotland's website.

Languages: Gaelic, Scots and other languages

Find out more in the languages section of this website.

LGBTI inclusive education

Scotland is the first country to have LGBTI inclusive education embedded in the curriculum. All state schools will be supported to teach LGBTI equality and inclusion across different age groups and subjects, grouped under various themes.

The themes will include LGBTI terminology and identities; tackling homophobia, biphobia and transphobia; prejudice in relation to the LGBTI community; and promoting awareness of the history of LGBTI equalities and movements.

This follows recommendations made in a report from the LGBTI Inclusive Education Working Group,  


Under the curriculum, all young people in Scotland have an entitlement to a senior phase of education (this is roughly from age 15 or S4 onwards).

A range of qualifications and awards are available to meet the needs and aspirations of young people to help them progress towards positive destinations beyond school, whether that be further study, work, training or employment.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) is responsible for developing and awarding qualifications, with the exception of degrees.

Scottish qualifications sit on a national framework which allocates credits. Find out more on the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework website.

National qualifications and awards

National qualifications in Scotland are called:

  • National 1 to 5
  • Higher
  • Advanced Higher
  • Scottish Baccalaureate

A range of vocational and skills related qualificatons and awards are also available. These qualifications are overseen by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

Unit assessments - reducing the over assessment burden

Units are blocks of work that are taught throughout the year where young people are assessed at each block. In September 2016, we decided to remove mandatory unit assessments from national qualifications to help reduce workload for teachers and young people.

Unit assessments have been removed from National 5 courses, with changes made to Higher from 2018 to 2019 and Advanced Higher from 2019 to 2020. Find out more about the changes to unit assessments on Education Scotland's website.

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