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United-Kingdom-Scotland:Secondary and Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education

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Secondary education in Scotland (ISCED levels 2 and 3) lasts between four and six years and caters for pupils aged 12 to 16-18. This topic is divided into general lower secondary education, and general and vocational upper secondary education. ‘Lower’ and ‘upper’ correspond here to the Broad General Education (secondary 1-3) and Senior Phase (secondary 4-6) of Curriculum for Excellence respectively. In terms of ISCED categorisation, however, lower secondary (ISCED 2) refers to compulsory secondary provision (age 12–16) and upper secondary (ISCED 3) to post-compulsory secondary provision (age 16-18).

All publicly funded secondary schools are comprehensive. In general, they aim to provide an education that, in accordance with the Curriculum for Excellence philosophy:

  • enables all pupils to develop as fully as possible,
  • prepares them to live in society,
  • meets their personal, social and vocational wishes,
  • and matches the expectations of their parents, of employers and of tertiary education.

The Curriculum for Excellence arrangements provide for a 'Broad General Education' to age 15 (Secondary 3), with pupils moving on to the 'Senior Phase' and National Qualifications courses in Secondary 4 and beyond. It is likely, therefore, that in the future Secondary 4 will come to be regarded as the practical start of upper secondary education, even though pupils are obliged to remain at school to at least the end of that year (age 16) (see 2.1 Fundamental Principles and National Policies for an overview of Curriculum for Excellence).

16+ Learning Choices (Scottish Government, 2010) is an offer by local authorities and their partners to all young people that entitles them to continue to develop their skills for learning, life and work in whatever type of provision is best suited to their needs and aspirations (see Chapter 6.4 Organisation of General and Vocational Upper Secondary Education). From age 16, young people might stay at school in Secondary 5-6, go to further or higher education, take part in a national training programme, volunteer, get a job or engage in community learning and development (CLD). Many pupils remain at school for these two years. Some leave at age 16 to undertake training or study at a college, or employment. Others leave at age 17 to take up employment, or further or higher education. Topic 8: Adult Education and Training covers further education, training, and community learning and development.

There are no programmes categorised as post-secondary non-tertiary education (ISCED 4) in Scotland.

The current legislative framework applies equally to primary and secondary education and is for the most part concerned with powers given to local authorities and largely administrative matters. The main points of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 that are specific to secondary education relate to the school leaving age and certain rights which pupils have. All young people are required to remain in full-time education until they reach the age of 16. In practice, this means that those whose sixteenth birthday falls before 1 September may leave school at the end of the previous May. Otherwise they must return to school for the first term of their fifth year and may leave only at the following Christmas.

The legislation (section 1(5) (a) of the 1980 Act) entitles pupils to an education adapted to their age, ability and aptitude. They also have the right to receive personal, curricular and vocational guidance, including specific careers advice from the Careers Service, and to be supported as necessary by the psychological service, the health services and the social work department.

As in the primary sector, the only stipulation in the Education Acts about the curriculum is that schools must provide religious education, as well as religious observance, although parents may withdraw their children from either or both.

The Education (Scotland) Act 1981 allowed young people to attend schools outwith their local area, provided that there were places available. The Education (Scotland) Act 1996 affected both lower and upper secondary education in that it provided for a new examining body, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), to take over the functions of the Scottish Examination Board (SEB) and the Scottish Vocational Education Council (SCOTVEC). This led to changes in the external examination system. The Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000 established a framework of improvement for all school education in Scotland.

Class sizes in secondary schools are controlled by agreements of the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT). The maximum class size in Secondary 1 and 2 is 33 pupils; in Secondary 3 to 6 it is 30. Classes in certain subjects defined as "practical" are restricted to 20 (e.g. science, home economics, art and design).

The Teaching Council (Scotland) Act 1965 requires teachers in secondary schools to be registered with the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) as secondary teachers of a particular subject or subjects. Support for Learning teachers who are registered as primary teachers may, however, also be employed in secondary schools.


Legislative References

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

Education (Scotland) Act 1981 (Act of Parliament) : 1981, c.58.

Education (Scotland) Act 1996 (Act of Parliament) : 1996, c.43.

Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000 (Act of the Scottish Parliament) : 2000, asp6.

Teaching Council (Scotland) Act 1965 (Act of Parliament) : 1965, c19