Skip Navigation

The Education System in the United Kingdom: The Education System in Scotland

Figure A-19. Levels of education in the United States, by age and year of schooling: 2013

Levels of education in the United States, by age and year of schooling: 2013

NOTE: Education levels are defined according to the 1997 International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED97). Ages represent the typical age at the beginning of the school year.
Numbers in bold print indicate ages of universal enrollment (i.e., an enrollment rate of over 90 percent). Numbers highlighted represent the age at which compulsory enrollment begins through the age at which compulsory enrollment ends. No meaning should be inferred from width of subdivisions. Duration of first university degree program is generally 4 years in the United States.
SOURCE: Miller, D.C. and Warren L.K. (2011). Comparative Indicators of Education in the United States and Other G-8 Countries: 2011 (NCES 2012-007). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

NOTE: The education system in Scotland is historically separate from the systems in the rest of the United Kingdom. Since devolution in 1999, the education system is the responsibility of the Scottish government.


  • Common name: Nursery school/class, day nursery
  • Ages of attendance: As early as age 3 through age 4
  • Number of years: 1 to 2
  • Start of universal enrollment: Age 4
  • Compulsory: No


  • Common name: P1 to P7, Primary school
  • Ages of attendance: 5 through 11
  • Number of years: 7
  • Universal enrollment: Yes
  • Compulsory: Yes, begins at age 5

Lower secondary:

  • Common name: S1 to S2, Secondary school
  • Ages of attendance: 12 to 13
  • Number of years: 2
  • Universal enrollment: Yes
  • Compulsory: Yes
  • Entrance/exit criteria: No

Upper secondary:

  • Common name: S3 to S6, Secondary school, Further education college
  • Ages of attendance: 14 to 17 (graduation at age 18)
  • Number of years: 4
  • Universal enrollment: Through age 16
  • Compulsory: Through age 15
  • Entrance/exit criteria: After 2 years, at the end of S4, students take Standard Grades, a series of single-subject externally certificated qualifications. These are at level 5 of the Scottish credit and qualifications framework and provide access to level 6 programs, such as "Highers."

NOTE: For the post-compulsory upper secondary phase, students apply for a specific program at a school or college. Programs that provide access to tertiary programs are at levels 6 and 7 of the Scottish credit and qualifications framework. There are also nationally supported training and apprenticeship programs, which incorporate part-time study at a college or with a training provider. Highers are usually taken in S5, the penultimate year of school or college. They are single-subject qualifications at level 6 of the Scottish credit and qualifications framework that can be studied in any combination within the limits of the school's or college's resources or combined with qualifications at a lower or higher level. It is possible for students to enter university directly from S5 if they have already achieved sufficient success in their Highers; however, most choose to continue at school or college for another year (i.e., in S6). Advanced Highers, which are taken at the end of S6, extend the skills and knowledge gained at the Higher level and are additional qualifications useful for entry into higher education or the workplace. Admission to tertiary programs is made on the basis of subjects/grades at Higher/Advanced Higher (or the equivalent) and subjects/grades at Standard Grade, together with a personal statement and a confidential reference. Additional admissions tests and interviews are used for a few highly competitive, creative, or care-related programs, such as teaching and medicine. A new curriculum for ages 3 to 17 began to be implemented in 2010/11. The Curriculum for Excellence extends the broad general education phase to the end of S3, before learners move on to take qualification programs in S4 to S6. New qualifications to support the Curriculum for Excellence started to replace existing qualifications in August 2 13.

Postsecondary and tertiary:

  • Common name: Higher education institution, college, university
  • Ages of attendance: Varies
  • Number of years: Varies according to course/degree
  • Universal enrollment: No
  • Entrance criteria: Awards in Higher or Advanced Higher level examinations set by the Scottish Qualifications Authority or its equivalent.

Common degree programs:

  • Certificates of higher education, Higher National Certificate: 1-year program, often with a vocational orientation.
  • Foundation degree, Diploma of Higher Education, Higher National Diploma: 2-year program, often with a vocational orientation.
  • Bachelor's degree: 3- or 4-year academic programs at colleges or universities: 3-year programs are more common; 4-year programs typically incorporate a placement year. Most programs lead to the award of a degree with honors, graded on a 4-point scale, although "ordinary" degrees (i.e., without honors) also exist. An honors degree is an entrance requirement for most graduate programs.
  • Advanced short programs: Short programs up to a year in length, for students who have already acquired a bachelor's degree. Some are at the same academic level as a bachelor's degree (e.g., graduate certificates), and some are at the same level as a master's degree (e.g., postgraduate certificates) Programs lead to a professional qualification (for example, the PGCE/QTS is for teachers).
  • Master's degree: 1 year or more beyond an honors bach-elor's degree or a teaching or research postgraduate degree. There are also some 4-year integrated master's degrees in scientific, engineering, and mathematical subjects that span the bachelor's and master's levels.
  • Doctorate: Research-oriented postgraduate degree. Minimum of 3 years in duration.

NOTE: Training for some professions consists of an under-graduate program leading to a specialist degree recognized by the relevant professional or statutory body. In the case of medicine, this is a 6-year program that spans the bachelor's and master's level study, but for historical reasons retains the title of Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery. This is followed by further professional training, but not necessarily by a further academic degree.


Eurydice. (2007). Focus on the Structure of Higher Education in Europe 2006/07: National Trends in the Bologna Process. Brussels: Eurydice. Retrieved March 25, 2013, from

Eurydice. (2013). Eurydice Highlights: The Structure of the European Education Systems 2012/13. Brussels: Eurydice. Retrieved March 22, 2013, from

Marlow-Ferguson, R. (Ed.). (2002). World Education Encyclopedia: A Survey of Educational Systems Worldwide, Vol. 3 (2nd ed.). Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (1996). Education at a Glance 1996: OECD Indicators. Paris: Author.

Robitaille, D.F. (1997). National Contexts for Mathematics and Science Education: An Encyclopedia of the Education Systems Participating in TIMSS. Vancouver, Canada: Pacific Educational Press.