Secondary education in Scotland

Secondary 1 – 3

Levels 3 and 4

The curriculum in the first three years of secondary school will build on the work done in primary school and will cover Levels 3 and 4 of the Curriculum for Excellence.

There are eight curriculum areas:

  • Expressive arts
  • Languages and literacy
  • Health and well-being
  • Mathematics and numeracy
  • Religious and moral education
  • Sciences
  • Technologies
  • Social studies


Assessment will take place throughout learning, at transition points and at the end of sections of learning. A formal assessment will take place in S2 and at other stages where appropriate.

Reporting and Consultation

Throughout S1-S6, progress will be summarised and reported at key stages as a Pupil Profile. This profile will include information on progress and achievement across curricular areas, achievements in or out of school and a record of qualifications and awards. Consultation meetings are held regularly to enable parents to discuss their child’s progress. Parents are encouraged to contact the school at other times if they have any concerns and the Guidance Teacher is usually the first line of contact.

During S1-3, learners and teachers, in partnership with parents, may decide if and when learners should begin to specialise in a subject. In S3, students will choose which qualifications to take in the Senior Phase.

Secondary 4-6

Senior Phase

The Senior Phase runs from S4-6 (up to the age of 18). Learners can study in school, at college or in other ways (e.g. job training, distance learning). Students will study and be assessed for qualifications from S4 onwards.

Subjects could include:

  • English
  • Maths
  • A Modern European Language
  • A Science subject
  • A ‘social subject’ – History, Geography or Modern Studies
  • A creative arts subject such as Art & Design, Music or Drama
  • A technological subject such as Computing, Craft, Design & Technology (CDT) or Administration

Other subjects such as digital media, photography and hairdressing may be available under the School College Partnership.

Qualifications and Awards

Literacy – From S3 onwards
Numeracy – From S3 onwards
Access 3 – No external assessment.
National 4 – No external assessment.
National 5 – Final external assessment, usually an exam, plus other types of assessment like coursework.
Higher Required for entrance to university.
Advanced Higher Study at an advanced level which prepares students for the first year of university.

Young people could study up to eight qualifications from S4, depending on the level of qualification and whether they are taken over one or two years. Students can take National 4 and 5 qualifications in S4, S5 and S6 or by-pass these and go straight to Highers, if this is appropriate for them. Literacy and Numeracy qualifications can be taken from S3 onwards.

Legally pupils may leave school when they are 16 years old, which means at the end of S4 or in December of S5. Guidance departments work with Careers staff in schools to advise on routes into further education or employment.

University Entrance Language Qualifications for Bilingual Pupils

There is an additional opportunity for some bilingual pupils to gain a qualification in English language: ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages). This can be used alongside other qualifications to gain entrance to university. This language course for bilingual pupils is run at Stevenson College. Further information on this can be found in schools.

Lothian Equal Access Programme for Schools, or LEAPS, is a service which helps to place pupils in universities who might otherwise find the process difficult. They can be of help to bilingual pupils seeking a university place and can be contacted through Guidance and Careers staff.

The Learning Environment

Pupils experience a variety of learning situations and materials in school.

They may be asked to work individually, in pairs, groups, or as part of the whole class. They may work under close teacher supervision or be asked to work alone. They may be taught by the teacher from the front of the classroom, or be encouraged to find things out for themselves working alone or in collaboration with others.

Pupils may learn by using different resources, such as books, other written materials, computers, TV, video, etc. They may use magazines, newspapers, photographs, paintings, music or any other useful resources.

Thus classrooms are not normally places of silent learning, and in fact, pupils may not spend all their time in the classroom. They may go to the school library or computer suite, or visit a place of educational interest outside school. They may be given the opportunity to spend a day, or more, away on an educational visit. Anything that enriches the learning environment may be used in the learning process, providing a varied and interesting learning experience.


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