Secondary education in Scotland

Secondary education in Scotland takes up to 6 years, covering the ages 11 to 18,[1] from S1 to S6. It is not compulsory after the age of 16, the age of majority in Scots law.

In Scotland, students transfer from primary to secondary education at either 11 or 12 years old. Pupils usually attend the same secondary school as their peers, as all secondaries have 'intake primaries'. Pupils either attend a Roman Catholic, or non-denominational school according to their or more commonly their parents' beliefs. Pupils in Scotland attend the same secondary school throughout their education; there are no sixth-form colleges in Scotland.

The first and second years of secondary school (abbreviated to S1 and S2) is a continuation of the Curriculum for Excellence started in primary school. After which there is no set national approach. S3 is still considered to be with the Broad General Education (or BGE) phase however some school allow students to start to narrow which subjects they wish to study with certain compulsory subjects such as English and Mathematics. In S4, students under 6-9 subjects called Nationals, and at this stage, students tend to be presented at levels 3-5. Nationals should take one year to complete, with National 3 and 4 having no external exam. Some National 5 qualifications, such as Physical Education, also have no external exam.

After these qualifications, some students leave to gain employment or attend further education colleges, however nowadays most students study for Highers, of which five are usually studied. These take a year to complete. After which some students decide to apply for university or stay on for S6, where other Highers are gained, or Advanced Highers are studied. Due to the nature of schooling in Scotland, undergraduate honours degree programmes are four years long as matriculation is normally at the completion of Highers in S5 (age 16-17), which compares with three years for the rest of the UK. As well as instruction through the English language education Gaelic medium education is also available throughout Scotland.

School qualifications

Previous Qualifications

S3 and S4 S5 S6
Standard Grade (Foundation level) or Access 3 Intermediate 1 Intermediate 2
Standard Grade (General level) or Intermediate 1 Intermediate 2 Higher
Standard Grade (Credit level) or Intermediate 2 Higher Advanced Higher

The vast majority of Scottish pupils take Scottish Qualifications Certificate qualifications provided by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). Generally, most pupils took Standard Grades (but some schools offered Intermediates instead) in S3-S4, and Highers in S5. For those who wish to remain at school for the final year (S6), more Highers and Advanced Highers (formerly CSYS) in S6 could be taken. Intermediate 1 and Intermediate 2 qualifications - were intended to be roughly equivalent to General and Credit Level Standard Grades respectively, but in practice (although may vary from subject to subject), Intermediate 1 was easier than General, and Intermediate 2 harder than Credit - can also be taken in lieu of any of the aforementioned qualifications.

Pupils can go to university at the end of S5, as Highers provide the entry requirements for Scottish universities where degrees are normally four years long; however, recently it is more common for students to remain until S6, taking further Highers and/or taking Advanced Highers.

All educational qualifications in Scotland are part of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework.

New Qualifications

From 2013/2014, Intermediates 1, 2 and Access 1-3 ceased to be in use. These qualifications have been replaced by National qualifications. These are designed to fit in with the Scottish Government's "Curriculum for Excellence" system newly implemented in schools.

S3 and S4 S5 S6
National 3 National 4 National 5
National 4 National 5 Higher
National 5 Higher Advanced Higher

Trades unions

See also


  1. "A World of opportunity: A Guide to Education and Training in Scotland". Edinburgh: Scottish Government. 17 March 2003. Retrieved 17 October 2012.
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