School Years in Scotland

Children start primary school aged between 4½ and 5½ depending on when the child's birthday falls. Scottish school policy places all those born between March of a given year and February of the following year in the same year group. Children born between March and August start school in August at between 5½ and 5 years old, and those born between September and February start school in the previous August at between age 4 years 11 months and 4½ years old. The Scottish system is the most flexible in the UK, however, as parents of children born between September and December can request a deferral for 1 year (not automatic, requires approval), whilst children born between January and February can opt to hold their child back a year and let them start school the following August. This usually allows those not ready for formal education to have an extra year at an early years centre (formarly known as nursery). (Funding is only available for children born in January and February).

Pupils remain at primary school for seven years. Then aged eleven or twelve, they start secondary school for a compulsory four years with the following two years being optional. In Scotland, pupils sit National 4/5 exams (previously Standard Grade or Intermediate exams) at the age of fifteen/sixteen, for normally eight subjects including compulsory exams in English and Mathematics. A Science subject (Physics, Biology or Chemistry) and a Social Subject (Geography, History or Modern Studies) were also compulsory, but this was changed is accordance with the new curriculum. It is now required by the Scottish Parliament for students to have two hours of physical education a week; each school may vary these compulsory combinations. The school leaving age is generally sixteen (after completion of National 4/5s), after which students may choose to remain at school and study for Higher and/or Advanced Higher exams.

A small number of students at certain private, independent schools may follow the English system and study towards GCSE instead of National 4/5s (Standard Grades), and towards A and AS-Levels instead of (or alongside) Higher Grade and Advanced Higher exams. The International Baccalaureate has also been introduced in some independent schools.

The table below lists rough equivalences with the year system in the rest of the United Kingdom (For England and Wales, the equivalence given is for children born before 1 September; the equivalence for those born from September to February December for deferred pupils is given in brackets):

Scotland Age at start of school year Age at end of school year England and Wales Northern Ireland Playgroup Early Years Centre Primary 1 Primary 2 Primary 3 Primary 4 Primary 5 Primary 6 Primary 7 S1 (First year) S2 (Second year) S3 (Third year) S4 (Fourth year) S5 (Fifth year) S6 (Sixth Year)
2-3 3-4 - Play School
3-4 4-5 - Nursery
4-5 5-6 Reception P1
5-6 6-7 Year 1 P2
6-7 7-8 Year 2 P3
7-8 8-9 Year 3 P4
8-9 9-10 Year 4 P5
9-10 10-11 Year 5 P6
10-11 11-12 Year 6 P7
11-12 12-13 Year 7 Year 8 (1st Year)
12-13 13-14 Year 8 Year 9 (2nd Year)
13-14 14-15 Year 9 Year 10 (3rd Year)
14-15 15-16 Year 10 Year 11 (4th Year)
15-16 16-17 Year 11 Year 12 (5th Year)
16-17 17-18 Year 12 Year 13 (L6th Year)
17-18 18-19 Year 13 Year 14 (U6th Year)

Access to early years centres, primary and secondary school
Government funded schools are free for children aged 5-19. In many cases, this applies to children of international post-graduate students, and other immigrants.

The age ranges specify the youngest age for a child entering that year and the oldest age for a child leaving that year. Playgroup can be described as a daycare centre for toddlers, then children may go on to attend an early years centre as soon as they have passed their third birthday, and progress to Primary 1 in the August of the year in which they turn five. In general, the cut-off point for ages is the end of February, so all children must be of a certain age on 1 March to begin class in August. All parents of children born between September and February (i.e. still 4 years old on the school start date) are entitled to defer entry to Primary School if they believe their child is not ready for school. Only children whose birthdays fall in January or February will be considered for funding for a subsequent year at an early years centre, unless there are special circumstances. Children may leave school once they reach their statutory school leaving date; this is dependent on date of birth. For children born between 1 March and 30 September, this date is 31 May of their 4th year of secondary school. For children born between 1 October and 28 February, the last day of June is the first date they may leave school if they have a placement at college and the school have signed the health & safety forms.

Which high school the child goes to depends on the area they live in, known as the "Catchment Area" which has a specific high school which takes children. Parents can also apply for a placement request if they would like their child to attend a school outside their Catchment area and a panel will decide if the child is the most worthy (out of all placing requests) to take one of the spaces left after all children from the catchment area have been taken.
The table below lists list the numbers of children, schools and teachers in all publicly funded schools:

Children Schools Teachers pupil:teacher ratio Preschool Primary Secondary Special
102,871 2,504 1,288
377,372 2,056 22,905 16.5
289,164 364 23,695 12.2
6,984 149 2,020 3.5

Home education is also legal in Scotland. Parents wishing to home educate do not need the permission of the Local Authority unless the children are already registered at a school. There are no exact numbers available for children being educated at home in Scotland.

In 2003, work began on an education reform program, to produce a new Curriculum for Excellence that would replace existing guidance on the school curriculum.

Curriculum for Excellence was launched in Scottish secondary schools from school session 2012-2013.