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Scottish School Year Group Names, Ages and Curriculum

UK Comparison Table of School Year Groups 

In Scotland the education system is slightly different to other parts of the UK.


In the state school system you don't get a choice of schools, families are allocated the school that serves your home postcode (with a catholic option). The Scottish Curriculum is known as Curriculum for Excellence (CfE)  - with final years exams being  National 5, (similar to GCSE's), Higher (similar to the old AS level) and Advanced Higher exams (similar to A Level). 

Private schools in Scotland are referred to as Independent Schools. Some follow the Scottish curriculum, some the English curriculum or International qualifications. In Edinburgh most independent schools entry ages are the same as the state schools although much more flexible.

One of the best tables I found for displaying the various year group names, ages and curriculum is this one below provided by the RAF families federation. 


Download here or read more here.

School year groups across the UK.webp

Children in Scotland usually start school between the ages of four years six months and five years six months old.  All children who are four years old at the start of the school year in August can defer and start primary one (P1) the following year.  Contact your council for more information. Link here to Edinburgh Council Defer Entry to P1

Here is a handy reference table to the usual starting ages for children entering Primary 1 and Secondary School S1

Child Born Between

  1. 1 March 2012 and 28 February 2013

  2. 1 March 2013 and 28 February 2014

  3. 1 March 2014 and 28 February 2015

  4. 1 March 2015 and 28 February 2016

  5. 1 March 2016 and 28 February 2017

  6. 1 March 2017 and 28 February 2018

  7. 1 March 2018 and 28 February 2019

  8. 1 March 2019 and 28 February 2020

  9. 1 March 2020 and 28 February 2021

  10. 1 March 2021 and 28 February 2022

  11. 1 March 2022 and 28 February 2023

  12. 1 March 2023 and 28 February 2024

Start Primary School P1

  1. (4yrs 6mths - 5yrs 5mths) AUGUST 2017

  2. (4yrs 6mths - 5yrs 5mths) AUGUST 2018

  3. (4yrs 6mths - 5yrs 5mths) AUGUST 2019

  4. (4yrs 6mths - 5yrs 5mths) AUGUST 2020

  5. (4yrs 6mths - 5yrs 5mths) AUGUST 2021

  6. (4yrs 6mths - 5yrs 5mths) AUGUST 2022

  7. (4yrs 6mths - 5yrs 5mths) AUGUST 2023

  8. (4yrs 6mths - 5yrs 5mths) AUGUST 2024

  9. (4yrs 6mths - 5yrs 5mths) AUGUST 2025

  10. (4yrs 6mths - 5yrs 5mths) AUGUST 2026

  11. (4yrs 6mths - 5yrs 5mths) AUGUST 2027

  12. (4yrs 6mths - 5yrs 5mths) AUGUST 2028

Start Secondary School S1

  1. (11yrs 6mths -12yrs 5mths) AUGUST 2024

  2. (11yrs 6mths -12yrs 5mths) AUGUST 2025

  3. (11yrs 6mths -12yrs 5mths) AUGUST 2026

  4. (11yrs 6mths -12yrs 5mths) AUGUST 2027

  5. (11yrs 6mths -12yrs 5mths) AUGUST 2028

  6. (11yrs 6mths -12yrs 5mths) AUGUST 2029

  7. (11yrs 6mths -12yrs 5mths) AUGUST 2030

  8. (11yrs 6mths -12yrs 5mths) AUGUST 2031

  9. (11yrs 6mths -12yrs 5mths) AUGUST 2032

  10. (11yrs 6mths -12yrs 5mths) AUGUST 2033

  11. (11yrs 6mths -12yrs 5mths) AUGUST 2034

  12. (11yrs 6mths -12yrs 5mths) AUGUST 2035

Term Dates and School Hours

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.

Further Reading Defer or not to defer

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.

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 pupils sit 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 pupils sit between 1 - 3 Adv. Higher subjects (similar to A-levels)

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.

About Curriculum for Excellence

Scottish Examinations

National 4s and 5s (similar level to GCSE, taken in S3 and/or S4, which is roughly equivalent to English year 10/11)

Scottish Highers (similar level to the old AS levels in England, taken in S5, which is roughly equivalent to English year 12)

Scottish Advanced Highers (similar to the A levels in England, taken in S6, which is roughly equivalent to English year 13)



National 5 (SCQF 5) = GCSE

HIgher (SCQF6)

Advanced Higher (SCQF 7) = A Level

Scottish Exams
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