Education is a devolved matter. This means that issues relating to education and children’s social care is the responsibility of the devolved nations, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, the Scottish Government is responsible for a wide range of education matters.
Scotland’s education settings are welcoming places where we want all children and young people to achieve their potential. Education in Scotland is organised differently to the rest of the UK. This section will help you understand you and your children’s education entitlements in Scotland.
Early Learning and Childcare
The Scottish Government and Local Authorities (the regional level of government) fund early learning and childcare. This means that it is free of charge for eligible children.
Currently, if your child is three or four years old, you can get up to 600 hours of funded early learning and childcare a year. This is equivalent to 16 hours a week if taken in term time or around 12 hours a week if taken all year round.
The Scottish Government is increasing the number of hours of funded early learning and childcare to 1,140 hours a year from August 2021. That’s about 30 hours a week if taken over school term time or around 22 hours a week if taken all year round. In some areas, the extra hours might already be available so it’s best to check with the local authority where you live.
You can access your child’s funded early learning and childcare hours through different types of registered providers, such as a nursery (local authority or privately run), childminder or playgroup. You will need to contact your local authority to find out more about the sessions and providers available to you and to find out how to apply.
Your child may be able to access funded early learning and childcare earlier than 3 but this is more limited and depends more on local rules. Please speak to your local authority to discuss you and your child’s circumstances to see if there is anything available before the universal offer locally.
You can find out more information on early learning and childcare at Parent Club.
School Age and Stages
Scotland provides free school education for all children from the age of around four and a half years old, up to the age of 18. Depending on when their birthday falls, some children can start before they are four and a half. Scotland has different enrolment and school entry dates than other parts of the UK. Children usually start school between the ages of 4 ½ and 5 ½ and can either apply for a place in a school in their local catchment area or at another school. A comprehensive guide to how to apply for a school place is available on the Scottish Government website.
Children start in Primary 1 and move up to the next class each year through to Primary 7. All children in Primaries 1-3 receive free school meals.
Children move up to secondary school automatically after primary school (aged 11 or 12 depending on when they started school).
Your local council is responsible for providing school education in the area you live. You can find full information on applying for all school places and placing requests in ‘Choosing a school - a guide for parents’.
All parents have a legal responsibility to educate their children which they can fulfil either by sending them to school or by home educating them – further information about the choices available can be found on the Scottish Government’s website.
Term dates will vary depending on your local authority area. You can find term dates at School term and holiday dates.
What Will My Child Learn?
Education is provided by early learning and childcare settings, primary schools (generally ages 5 – 11) and secondary schools (generally ages 12 – 18).
Scotland’s curriculum covers the ages 3-18 and includes two broad stages.
The first stage is age 3-15 and is called the “broad general education”. This stage covers the early years (nursery and early learning and childcare), primary school (primary 1 to 7) and the first three years of secondary school (“S1-S3”).
The second stage is called the senior phase and covers the final three years of secondary school (S4-S6) when students can study for a range of awards and qualifications.
All children aged 3 to 18 learn through the Curriculum for Excellence, Scotland’s Curriculum. The curriculum places learners at the heart of education so that they achieve their potential through being successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.
The curriculum is designed to provide a variety of pathways for learners to develop and demonstrate their skills and knowledge, preparing them for continuing on to further education, higher education or employment.
Further information about the curriculum in Scotland is available from Education Scotland’s Parent Zone website.
A parent-friendly guide to Curriculum for Excellence has been produced by Scotland’s National Parent Forum and can be found at - CfE in a Nutshell - National Parent Forum of Scotland (npfs.org.uk)
Schools, in collaboration with colleges and employers, have the flexibility to offer a range of experiences to meet the needs of all learners. Young people can also study a range of national and vocational qualifications and awards, including Nationals, Highers, Advanced Highers, Foundation Apprenticeships and Skills for Work courses. Further information on Scottish qualifications can be found on the Scottish Qualifications Authority website. Comparative information of qualifications across the UK and Ireland can be viewed at Qualifications can Cross Boundaries and apprenticeships.scot.
Scotland’s Young Persons Guarantee aim is that, within two years, every person aged between 16 and 24 will have the opportunity to study; take up an apprenticeship, job or work experience; or participate in formal volunteering. Our aim is to support young people, by building on our strong and successful, skills and education system in Scotland (Young Person’s Guarantee).
My Child Needs Extra Support
In the first instance, discuss your child’s needs with the school, including any formal support plans (like a HCPC) previously in place. They will be best placed to provide information and support for your child. If you do not know which school your child will attend, you can check catchments based on your posting.
Additional Support for Learning (ASL) in Scotland is different to Special Educational Needs & Disability in England (SEND), but your child will still receive support if they need it.
Additional Support Needs (ASN) are broadly defined, including those which might impact on children from Armed Forces families, such as transitions, interrupted learning and dealing with separation and loss. They can be of short or long-term duration and occur for a variety of reasons. ASN in Scotland includes needs defined as SEND in England.
We also have a Scottish advice service for additional support for learning, where you will find useful information about when your child might be entitled to extra support. This can be found at Enquire.
The Children’s Education Advisory Service (CEAS) also provide support and assistance to families moving schools for a child with additional needs. More information can be found at Children’s Education Advisory Service (CEAS) - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
As well as local authority education, parents may consider enrolling their child in an independent school. All independent schools in Scotland are registered, with their details available online at Independent schools in Scotland: register.
The independent sector includes boarding schools, where children and young people stay at the school, either full-time or perhaps only for part of the week. Where a school provides boarding, it is registered with, and inspected by, the Care Inspectorate. You can find out more about the Care Inspectorate.
Boarding schools in Scotland differ, and may offer the Curriculum for Excellence or another curriculum. However, all independent schools are inspected by Education Scotland in the same way that local authority schools are. If you are considering enrolling your child at an independent boarding school, you are encouraged to make contact with the schools you are interested in, seeking a copy of the school’s prospectus in order that you can be better informed about what each school offers.
The Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS) are a useful source for more general information on independent schools. SCIS is a charitable body which represents most of Scotland’s independent schools. You can visit Scottish Council of Independent Schools for more information.
Further education includes courses that are below the Higher National Certificate (HNC) level. These courses are taught in either secondary school or colleges and include:
Academic courses below HNC level.
Courses that do not lead to formal qualifications e.g. independent living skills.
Courses on basic skills such as reading, writing and numeracy skills.
Work-related courses, such as Scottish Vocational Qualifications.
Colleges are responsible for assessing an individual’s criteria for funding, you should therefore enquire within your chosen college.
Higher Education in Scotland includes courses of study which are at a HNC level or above. Individuals can take these courses at college or university and there is no age limit. Higher education courses range from:
Higher National Diploma (HND)
Certificate of Higher Education (Cert HE)
Diploma of Higher Education (Dip HE)
Undergraduate Ordinary Degree
Undergraduate Honours Degree
If individuals are students in Higher Education, they may be entitled to financial support from our Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS). You and your family are entitled to support from SAAS if you meet the ordinary residency criteria.
You can find more information on Higher Education funding by calling SAAS direct on: 0300 555 0505.
Community Learning and Development (CLD) and Adult Learning
CLD supports primarily disadvantaged or vulnerable groups and individuals of all ages to engage in learning, with a focus on bringing about change in their lives and communities. Community Learning and Development includes:
youth work, family learning and other early intervention work with children, young people and families
community-based adult learning, including adult literacies and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)
learning for vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in the community, for example, people with disabilities, care leavers or offenders
community development (building the capacity of communities to meet their own needs, engaging with, and influencing decision-makers)
learning support and guidance in the community.
If you want to find out more about community learning and development activities, contact your local authority. More information on CLD can also be found at About Community Learning and Development - Community learning and development - Scottish education system - Education Scotland
Parental and learner involvement
As a parent, you are entitled to be involved in the life and work of the school and to be engaged in your child’s learning. When your child joins a school in Scotland, you automatically become a member of the school’s “parent forum”. As a member of the school’s parent forum you can also join the school’s Parent Council which is a way for parents to have a formal role in influencing the life and work of the school.
Schools also have arrangements in place to gather learners’ views from the earlier stages of their education, via pupil councils or other methods.
There is a further dedicated guide to Scottish education and a wide range of matters for armed service personnel.
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