The UK education system is made up of the 4 different education systems of the 4 countries in the UK: England, Wales, Northern Ireland and of course Scotland. While the first three countries’ education systems tend to be quite similar, the education system of Scotland is slightly different. This can make these 4 different countries’ systems slightly harder to compare, if you want to see the difference in what children in the UK learn.
One way to get over this is to look at the national curriculums of each country. However, as the Scottish education system is pretty different to the others, you may be wondering if Scotland has a national curriculum at all.
In short, Scotland does have a national curriculum. This is called the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). This curriculum outlines what students between the ages of 3 and 18 will need to be taught at school. In this way, the Curriculum for Excellence also sets out the pre-university Scottish education system. This is split into two phases: the broad general education phase and the senior phase. Including the senior phase as a whole, these two phases are then split into 6 levels.
Continue reading to learn more about the Scottish education system and the Curriculum for Excellence. Within this guide, you will find out more about the levels and stages that are set out in the Curriculum for Excellence that make up the Scottish education system.
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What is the Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland?
In Scotland, the national curriculum is known as the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). It sets out an overview of what students in Scotland between the ages of 3 and 18 will need to learn.
The Curriculum for Excellence is split up into two different phases. The first part is from early years to S3. During this stage, the student will receive a broad general education.
The broad general education phase is designed to give students the necessary skills and knowledge to be successful in the future. Thus, it is pretty much the basis or foundation level of their education which they will build up from later on. You can learn more about it in this governmental guide.
The other part of the Curriculum for Excellence is the senior phase. This phase is from S4 and beyond. Being carried out after students would have already experienced the broad education phase of the Curriculum for Excellence, the senior phase builds on what students would have already learnt.
It then gives them a deeper understanding of their topic areas. For more about the senior phase, check out this governmental guide.
Not only is it split into two phases, but the Curriculum for Excellence also has curriculum levels. There are six in total as there are 5 that make up the broad general education along with the senior phase level.
The Curriculum for Excellence is also based on 8 subject areas. These are expressive arts, health and wellbeing, languages, mathematics, religious and moral education, sciences, social studies, and technologies.
To learn more about the Curriculum for Excellence, check out this governmental guide.
How does the Scottish education system work?
In Scotland, when children start school will depend on when their birthday is. If their birthday is between March and August, they will start school in the Autumn term after their 5th birthday.
However, if their birthday is between September and February, they will start school in the Autumn term before their 5th birthday. For more information about this, please refer to this governmental guide.
As mentioned above, the pre-university Scottish education system, which the Curriculum for Excellence outlines, is made up of two main phases. These are the broad general education phase and the senior phase.
The broad education phase covers the majority of a child’s education and is split up into 5 levels. These 5 levels are early level, first level, second level, third level and fourth level. The senior level comes after these 5 levels.
For a clear comparison with these levels and their age and year groups, check out the table below.
|Age (at start of the year)||Year||Stage|
|11-12||S1||Third level/ fourth level|
|12-13||S2||Third level/ fourth level|
|13-14||S3||Third level/ fourth level|
What is the early level in Scotland?
The first stage of the Scottish education system is the early level. The early stage is the first of the curriculum levels in Scotland. This level is one of the 5 that make up the broad general education phase from the Curriculum for Excellence.
This level covers the education of children from the age of 3 until the end of their first year at school, P1. By this time, students will be about 5 or 6, depending on when their birthday is and when they started school. For more information about the early level, check out this governmental guide.
What is the first level in Scotland?
The next stage of the Scottish education system is the first level. Despite its name, it comes after the early level and is actually the second curriculum level. Just like the early level, it is also one of the levels of the broad general education phase.
The first level covers the education of the students in P2, P3 and P4. This means that children will start with this level when they are about 5 or 6 and continue with it until they are about 8 or 9. For more information about the first level, check out this governmental guide.
What is the second level in Scotland?
The second level is the next stage up in the Scottish education system. Once again, this is actually the third curriculum level rather than the second, but it is still a part of the broad general education phase.
The second level covers the rest of primary school with students in this level being in one of P5, P6 or P7. While students will generally start second level at either 8 or 9, they will normally be 10 or 11 when they finish it.
Before moving on, when they’re in P7, the child’s school will make a profile of learner achievement, which is a positive record that highlights their strengths. For more information about the second level, check out this article by the BBC. To learn more about profiles in P7, check out this governmental guide.
What is the third and fourth level in Scotland?
The next two levels of the Curriculum for Excellence go hand in hand. In fact, they even cover the same age group of students. These are third level and fourth level.
These levels cover the education of students for the larger part of compulsory secondary school, right from the start of it. During these levels, students will be in S1, S2 or S3.
Due to this, students will be between the ages of 11 or 12 right up to 13 or 14, depending on when they started school, as mentioned above. Similarly, to the second level, in the last year of this stage, S3, schools will once again make the profiles for students.
The idea of these profiles, particularly at this stage, is to show what the student has achieved both in school and outside of it. They can show then these to colleges or even universities or employers in the future.
What is the senior phase in Scotland?
The last stage of the pre-university Scottish education system is the senior phase. It includes S4, S5 and S6, where students are between the ages of 14 or 15 at the start to 17 or 18 by the end of S6.
The senior phase is similar to the previous levels in that it only covers 3-year groups. However, not all of this phase is compulsory.
This is because the school leaving age in Scotland is 16. For more on school leaving age, check out this guide by the government.
On top of that, the senior phase covers the most part of official exams, notably National Qualifications. National Qualifications are important qualifications in Scotland that come in a range of different levels. They include both National 5 qualifications, Highers, and Advanced Highers.
For more information about National Qualifications, check out this guide by the SQA. For more on the senior phase, check out this governmental guide. If you want to learn more about Higher qualifications, check out this Think Student article.
What is a National 5 qualification in Scotland?
National 5 (N5) qualifications are the National Qualification that is at level 5 on the SCQF levels. You can find more about in this guide by the SCQF. They can be taken at any point in school from S4 to S6 or even after that at a college.
For a National 5 qualification, you can get a lettered grade from A to D. While this is not similar to GCSE, which either go from 9-1 or A to G, National 5s and GCSEs do have some similarities.
The main one being that they are roughly the equivalent level. GCSEs are a level 2 qualification in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales. This is roughly equivalent to the Scottish level 5.