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.

Appeal hearings can be held by video or telephone conferences or in writing.

Read more:

Curriculum for Excellence (CfE)

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 Curriculum for Excellence, all young people have an entitlement to a senior phase of education (this is roughly from age 15 or S4 onwards) where they can study towards qualifications.

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, such as 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.

Qualifications and awards

Schools offer a range of qualifications and awards depending on their local circumstances.  These will often include a mix of National Qualifications, Vocational and Technical Qualifications and Youth Awards. 

National qualifications in Scotland are called:

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

Vocational and Technical Qualifications have become increasingly popular in schools as they enable young people to develop work related skills whilst still studying at the same SCQF (Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework) levels as they can through National Qualifications.  The most common are:

Youth Awards provide further opportunities for recognition of young people’s learning and achievement.  Well known examples are the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and Saltire Award. Further information can be found at the Awards Network web site

COVID-19 pandemic

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, alternative assessment approaches to national qualifications were adopted in 2020 and 2021.

The package of support evolved each year to reflect the specific circumstances, with decisions matched to the temporary and emergency assessment approaches taken in each of those years.

While there was a return to exams in 2022, it was not a return to normal. In recognition of the disruption to learning faced by learners, modifications to the course assessments were made to increase the amount of time available for teaching and learning, and revision support was provided in the run up to the exams. In addition, a more generous approach to grading was taken, and learners were able to submit appeals where their awarded grade was less than their teacher submitted estimate. The appeals process involved consideration of alternative evidence.

The modifications to courses were continued in the 2023 academic session, and SQA took a sensitive, evidence-based approach to grading. Based on feedback from an evaluation of the 2022 approach, the appeals process reverted to the pre-pandemic process but with free and direct access for learners. Under the Post-Results Service, all learners have the right to request a review of their marked exam papers and SQA marked coursework, irrespective of their estimated grade.

Most National Qualifications courses returned to full assessment requirements for the 2023 to 2024 session, but with some modifications retained for some courses.

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