Scottish School Year Group Names, Ages and Curriculum



In Scotland the school year starts at the end of August and ends at the end of June, which is before English schools. This in turn means half terms and other holidays are not always at the same time as in England.


Edinburgh state schools are open 190 days per year. Mostly from 8:50am - 3:15 pm Monday to Thursday and all finish the week at midday on Friday at around 12:25pm.


Nursery School

All children are entitled to 1,140 hours of funded nursery or childcare a year (around 30 hours a week in term time). This continues from the term after your child turns 3 until they start school. Or from 2 years for parents in receipt of certain benefits. Nursery provision is not catchment restricted. A nursery may either be attached to a school or independent and offering council funded spaces.


Defer Entry from Nursery to Primary School

*In Scotland if your child is aged 4 years or above after the 29th February - they start school that August. So children will be between 4.6 yrs and 5.6 yrs, depending on their birthday, when they start school in Primary 1. Now, in Edinburgh and from 2023 in Scotland, all parents have the option to hold their pre-schooler back from starting school and receive an extra funded childcare or nursery place for another year. Which means they will start school between the ages of 5.6 years and 6.6 years old.


This will, inevitably, mean a Primary 1 class may have children spanning between 4.6 and 6.6 years of age.


Primary School:

Dependant on when in the year a child's birthday falls, children will attend primary school for seven years, usually between the ages of five and 12. Lunch is free for every child from Nursery until the end of Primary 4, along with text books and items required for learning.


Approx Starting Age

Primary 1 (P1) – Age 5 *

Primary 2 (P1) – Age 6

Primary 3 (P1) – Age 7

Primary 4 (P1) – Age 8

Primary 5 (P1) – Age 9

Primary 6 (P1) – Age 10

Primary 7 (P1) – Age 11

Secondary School:

Dependant on when in the year a child's birthday falls, children will attend secondary school for up to six years between the ages of 12 and 18. Secondary School years S1 to S4 are

mandatory. Secondary years S5 and S6 are optional - children choose to go.


Approx Starting Age

Secondary 1 (S1) – Age 12

Secondary 2 (S2) – Age 13

Secondary 3 (S3) – Age 14

Secondary 4 (S4) – Age 15

Secondary 5 (S5) – Age 16

Secondary 6 (S6) – Age 17


The Scottish Curriculum and Exam System

In Scotland, the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) is the national curriculum used from nursery school all the way through to secondary school (3yrs to 18yrs). CfE comprises a broad general education up to the end of S3 (third year in secondary school) followed by a senior phase of learning in the final three years of secondary school with exams. Children can leave school after S4. The exam level by this point would be Scottish National 4 or National 5. Students would generally need to stay on until S5 to take Higher exams. And until the end of S6 to take Advanced Higher exams.


Approx Starting Age

Secondary 4 (S4) – 15 yrs (finish at 16 yrs)

Exams Taken: Scottish National 4 (Nat 4) or National 5 (Nat 5) Exam Level.

Normally up to 8 Nat 4 or Nat 5 subjects


Secondary 5 (S5) – 16 yrs (finish at 17 yrs)

Exams Taken: Scottish Higher Exam Level.

Normally up to 5 Higher subjects

Or students combine with retakes or extra National 5 exams.

Scottish Universities will accept children with higher results, as Scottish Universities are 4 year courses. Most English universities prefer students to have Advance Higher's as courses take just 3 years.


Secondary 6 (S6) – 17 yrs (finish at 18 yrs)

Exams Taken: Scottish Advanced Higher Exam Level

Normally up to 3 Adv. Higher subjects

Or students combine the above with retakes or extra Higher exams


Further Education College

College is optional for young people aged 16 or over who qualify for entry. Colleges in Scotland are different from universities and provide a range of courses varying from vocational to fast-track degree entry from the age of 16 upwards. Most students can attend free of charge. Check with the college.


Higher Education University

University is optional for young people aged 17 or over who qualify for entry - Young people, usually aged 17/18 and over. Most students who live in Scotland attend a Scottish University free of charge.

The standard entry requirements for most Scottish university degrees are four Highers at specified grades to be achieved by the end of S5 or the end of S6. Students are often required to have 1-3 Advanced Higher Exams to apply to UK or worldwide universities. Scottish Universities offer a 4 year degree course. In England courses are taken in 3 years.