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United-Kingdom-Scotland:Organisation of Private Education

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Early learning and childcare

The voluntary and private sectors play an important role in providing pre-school education. Local Authorities buy the services of institutions in these sectors to supplement their own pre-school education provision. In some areas of the country these sectors make a very significant contribution. For example, in the Western Isles, voluntary groups are the main providers. The voluntary sector also offers all-day care and education, often to the children of working parents. There are also a number of pre-school education centres attached to independent (private) schools. Some industrial and commercial firms, as well as major national and local government offices, offer day-care facilities for the children of employees.


School education

The law permits individuals and bodies to provide education outside the local authority system. If an establishment is offering full time education for children of school age and is not a local authority school, it should be registered as an independent school in accordance with section 98 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980.  Guidance on how to register an independent school, along with a link to the Register of Independent Schools, can be found on  the Scottish Government website. This does not apply to parents who choose to educate their own children at home.

Private schools are usually called “independent schools” in Scotland. Parents pay fees for the attendance of their children at these schools.  About 4% of Scottish children and young people attend independent schools and many pupils come from abroad.

There are 102 independent schools across Scotland. Independent schools vary enormously in size, ranging from fewer than 20 pupils to over 2,000. Some offer a complete education from pre-school age to 18; others are for primary or secondary age pupils. Independent schools have some freedom in the number of days on which they open in the year. There is no legal requirement for an independent school to follow national curricular guidance, though the majority of them do. Often the curriculum is adapted to take account of a school’s particular ethos or religious orientation.

Over 75% of independent schools are members of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS), in which they can come together to discuss matters of common interest and to organise training for their staff and governing bodies.Independent schools are inspected by Education Scotland in the same way as local authority schools. In carrying out such an inspection, Education Scotland takes into account the stated aims of the school.

All mainstream independent schools providing boarding have to be registered and inspected by the organisation Social Care and Social Work Improvement Scotland (SCSWIS - the Care Inspectorate), in accordance with the Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001.


Grant-aided schools

There is one mainstream grant-aided school in Scotland. It has a primary and a secondary department, is state-funded by direct grant from the Scottish Government and is non fee-paying.

There are also seven grant-aided special schools in Scotland, which receive direct grant funding from the Scottish Government along with fees paid by Education Authorities who place children with them.


Further, Higher and Adult Education

There is no institutional provision of private education in the post-school sector. Private providers do offer training and educational courses in various fields.


Legislative References

Education (Scotland) Act 1980 (Act of Parliament) : 1980, c.44.

Regulation of Care Act 2001 (Act of the Scottish Parliament) : 2001, asp8.