Building a New Scotland: Education and lifelong learning in an independent Scotland

This paper sets out the Scottish Government's vision for Education and Lifelong Learning in an independent Scotland.


This is a summary of the Scottish Government's proposals for education and lifelong learning in an independent Scotland. The full paper:

  • sets out how current policies provide the foundations for learning, through an approach to rights and wellbeing which gives children and young people the best opportunities to reach their full potential; and explains how we would build on this in an independent Scotland
  • describes what people in Scotland can expect as they move through the education and lifelong learning journey, and how we would be able to improve our educational offer

This summary is available in other versions:

The report that follows provides more details on these proposals, including the evidence that informs them, as well as references to sources.

Education and Lifelong Learning in Scotland

Scotland's distinct and independent education system predates the devolution era and the international excellence of Scottish education long predates the Act of Union. Indeed, Scotland's first University, St Andrews, was founded in the early 15th century and is the third oldest in the English-speaking world. Glasgow University was founded in 1451 on the petition of King James II of Scotland, and Aberdeen University is Scotland's third oldest. We have a proud tradition of education in Scotland.

Today, Scotland's education system is supported by the work of the Scottish Government, Local Authorities and Scotland's communities in towns and villages the length and breadth of our nation. The universities and colleges that now make up our rich Further and Higher Education sector provide a range of opportunities for our young people to explore. Indeed, the percentage of Scots holding post-secondary school qualifications continues to be one of the highest in Europe.

Independence would give future Scottish governments the ability to make choices not currently available under the devolution settlement; choices that make the conditions and foundations for learning even stronger, so that every young person has the best chance possible of succeeding at school and in post-school education.

Scotland does not currently have full powers over the policy areas that would allow us to fully tackle child poverty. With the full powers of an independent state, future Scottish governments could make different policy decisions about how to tackle child poverty most effectively.

Future Scottish governments could consider improvements to the parental leave and pay system, with higher minimum standards than those currently set by the UK Government. This could include:

  • enhancing the length and level of paid maternity leave for mothers
  • for fathers/partners, enhancing the current statutory two week leave and pay provision and providing additional weeks of shared parental leave taken at the end of the fifty-two-week maternity period
  • ensuring that those who experience miscarriage receive three days paid leave

In an Independent Scotland, the Scottish Government would work alongside Scotland's families to progress this ambition.

Scotland was the first nation in the UK to incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) directly into law with the passing of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Act 2024 (the 'UNCRC Act'). The Scottish Government has already demonstrated our commitment to protecting the rights of children.

However, the duty does not currently apply to every function or service delivered by public bodies in Scotland.

With the powers of an independent country, the Scottish Government would be able to incorporate – in full – the UNCRC into Scots law, further enhancing children's rights. This commitment, combined with our approach to implementing Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC), aims to provide all children and young people with the best possible foundations for learning, regardless of their circumstance.

Furthermore, with full powers over equalities in an independent Scotland, a future Scottish Government could work with the care experienced community to decide if making 'care experience' a protected characteristic is a change that would be welcomed. An action could be taken accordingly to ensure greater legal protections to those with experience of care.

International research shows that high-quality early learning and childcare (ELC) programmes for pre-school children are associated with improvements in later education, employment, and health. There is also evidence that children from disadvantaged backgrounds benefit most from these programmes and that investing in high-quality ELC also has important short and longer- term benefits for children's development, education and health.

Since 2021, Scotland has been the only part of the UK to offer 1,140 hours of funded ELC per year to eligible children, regardless of their parents' working status. That's equivalent to 30 hours per week in term time for all three and four year olds and eligible two year olds. With independence, future governments could seek to make improvements to accessing childcare. For example, a future government could make different decisions about the design of currently reserved schemes – Universal Credit Childcare and Tax-Free Childcare – which support parents and carers to pay for childcare.

We are already building a school education system that delivers excellence and equity for children and young people. The OECD independent report on Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence found that it offered 'an inspiring and widely supported philosophy of education' with its design offering 'the flexibility needed to improve student learning further'.

Our tertiary education and research sectors are amongst the best in the world. Scotland's colleges and universities are national assets that contribute across a range of social, economic and cultural impacts. Our student support offering and commitment to free tuition supports around 120,000 students studying in Scotland every year.

Future governments could develop a student loans system that is bespoke to Scotland, which would enable more flexibility in the delivery of student loans and would not be subject to the confines of Treasury approval.

An independent Scotland, as part of the EU, would also welcome students from EU countries to our world class colleges and universities, reversing the decline in students coming to the UK following Brexit and the current policies of the UK Government. Students would once again be able to participate in exchange programmes through the Erasmus+ programme, widening educational opportunities for Scotland's future generations.



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