Education in Edinburgh

School system in Edinburgh

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The Scottish education system is distinct from education in the rest of United Kingdom. It has an emphasis of breadth across a range of subjects known as the "Curriculum for Excellence", while England, Wales, and Northern Ireland's systems emphasis greater depth of education over a smaller range of subjects. Scottish Qualifications Certificate qualifications are provided by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

Stages of Education

Early Education

Children aged 3 to 4 are entitled to a free nursery school. Formal primary education begins at between 4.5 and 5.5 years old and lasts for 7 years (P1–P7).

Scottish school policy places all those born between March of a given year and February of the following year in the same year group. Children born between March and August start school in August at between 5.5 and 5 years old, and those born between September and February start school in the previous August at between age 4 years 11 months and 4.5 years old. This offers a great deal of flexibility as parents of children born between September and December can request a deferral for 1 year, whilst children born between January and February can opt to hold their child back a year and let them start school the following August.

Secondary School

At aged eleven or twelve, children start secondary school for a compulsory four years, with an optional additional two years. The majority of secondary schools are state comprehensive schools. There are also denominational schools (largely Roman Catholic) and Integrated Community Schools (providing health, social and psychological care alongside education.)

Once students have completed the 5-14 Curriculum they enter the second stage of the Curriculum in Scotland. Students in S3-S4 (ages 14-16) sit the Standard Grade. A basic 9 subjects are studied, with compulsory exams in 8 subjects including English, Mathematics, a Science subject (Physics, Biology or Chemistry) and a Social Subject (Geography, History or Modern Studies).

Intermediate Levels

These qualifications are for students who have completed Standard Grades, Access 3 or want to study a new subject. For others, Intermediate 2 forms a bridge between Standard Grade and Highers.


Highers are for students who have obtained Standard Grade credit level or Intermediate 2. Highers are necessary for degree study at University or College and students may sit examinations in up to 5 or 6 subjects. Students can now bypass the Higher examinations and just study for Advanced Highers over 2 years, though many still opt to take Highers as well.

5 core skills are focused on: Communication, numeracy, information technology, problem solving and working with others. Students must pass all five to obtain a Scottish Group Award, which is valued by employers.

Private School

Private Schools can offer an elevated environment of learning for some students. Other schools offer a specialty focus that may be worth paying extra for. It is important to visit a school to determine the best fit for you and your child. Most private schools have open days for prospective parents, but it is wise to ask to make an appointment to visit on a normal working day. Questions you may want to ask:

  • Special needs: Does the school have facilities and suitably qualified and experienced staff to look after any special needs your child may have? Is there a program for gifted and talented children or special provision for those with physical disabilities? Is their a language requirement that could aid your child?
  • Curriculum: Is it broad and balanced? Will your child have an adequate range of options? Are there specialist teachers?
  • The staff: How well qualified are they? Is there reasonable staff stability? Do the teachers stay long in post?
  • Extra activities: Does the school offer an exciting extra-curricular activities programme that will stimulate your child's interest? If you are considering boarding school, you will want to know what activities the school provides for children in the evening and at weekends.
  • Exam results: High in the "league tables" indicates success with standardized tests.

A helpful resource is the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS) is an independent, educational charity (Scottish Charity No. SCO18033) representing over 70 member schools in Scotland. They offer advice on which schools are best for your child, as well as facts and statistics about fees and student population.


Fees range from school to school so make sure to compare. There are occasional grants and scholarships for worthy students, but they are competitive. Ask at the school for opportunities.

    Example of prices per term:
  • Pre-Prep (age 2-7): 700 to 1200 GBP
  • Junior/Prep (age 7-11/13) Day Classes: 1400 to 4250 GBP
  • Junior/Prep (age 7-11/13) Boarding: 2055 to 5010 GBP
  • Senior (age 11/13-18) Day Classes: 3360 to 5390 GBP
  • Senior (age 11/13-18) Boarding: 5640 to 8360 GBP

Extra activities like instrumental instruction, school uniforms, or school trips may require additional fees. Many private schools have their own second-hand shops selling uniforms and other supplies.

Boarding Schools

The world models boarding schools on the classic British boarding school. There is usually a dormitory, the refectory, and the study hall.

Boarding schools may be all-boarding or flexible boarding, or offer weekly boarding. This allows students the opportunity to return home on weekends or only stay at the school occasionally. Boarding schools were declining during the 1990's, but have received a small revival which may be due to the "Harry Potter" effect.


Loretto School
Address: Linkfield Road
Musselburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Tel: 44 (0)131 653 4444
Loretto School is a co-educational boarding and day school for 3 - 18 years old's in Scotland. Set in 85 acres of leafy campus just outside Edinburgh, Scotland's capital city, Loretto School provides an all-round education for just over 500 boys and girls - boarders, flexi-boarders and day pupils.

Merchiston Castle School
Address: Colinton
Edinburgh EH13 0PU
Tel: +44(0)131 312 2200
A leading British Independent School offering an outstanding all-round education. It's many strengths include impressive academic and sporting results, learning support and, a full weekend timetable.

The Edinburgh Academy
Address: 42 Henderson Row
Edinburgh EH3 5BL
Tel: (0131) 556 4603
Thriving co-educational day school that highly values the ability to be known and appreciated within our community. Offers a Nursery (ages 2-5), Junior School (ages 5-11), Senior School (ages 11-18), and the Academical Club (former pupils association).

A continued list of private schools can be found UK Private Schools and SchoolsNet.

International Baccalaureate (IB)

The IB program is offered by a number of private schools. It is taught under the supervision of the International Baccalaureate Organisation. All students study languages, social science, experimental science, mathematics and arts.

    The IB is divided into three programmes covering the following age ranges:
  1. Primary Years Programme (PYP) ages 3-12
  2. Middle Years Programme (MYP) ages 11-16
  3. Diploma Programme (DP) ages 16-18


Bachelor's degrees at Scottish universities are bestowed after four years of study. A some of the ancient universities these are known as Masters of Arts (MA), with the option to graduate with an ordinary degree after three years or continue with the fourth year of study to obtain an honors degree.

Unlike the rest of the United Kingdom, Scottish students studying at a Scottish university do not have to pay for tuition fees (up to £9000/year). The Students Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) pays course fees for all Scottish students domiciled in Scotland.
Scottish students studying outside of Scotland but within the UK have to pay for tuition, but at a reduced rate depending upon how much their chosen institution charges.

There are 15 Scottish universities and Edinburgh is home to several or the most distinguished. Many are ranked amongst the best in the UK. The country produces 1 percent of the world's published research with less than 0.1 percent of the world's population.

The University of Edinburgh
Address: Old College, South Bridge Edinburgh EH8 9YL
Tel: 44 (0)131 650 1000
A prestigious university over 400 years old.

University of St Andrews
Address: St Andrews
KY16 9AJ, Fife, Scotland, UK
Tel: +44 (0)1334 476161
St Andrews is Scotland's first university and the third oldest in the English-speaking world, founded in 1413.

Edinburgh Napier University
Address: Craiglockhart Campus,
Edinburgh, EH14 1DJ UK
Tel: 08452 60 60 40
This University has evolved from a technical college to a major modern Scottish university. Today, it is one of the largest higher education institutions in Scotland with around 14,000 students studying professional courses at all levels of award in three faculties; Health, Life & Social Sciences; Engineering, Computing & Creative Industries; and The Business School.

Heriot-Watt University
Address: Edinburgh Campus Edinburgh, Scotland, EH14 4AS
Tel: 44 (0) 131 449 5111
One of the UK's leading universities for business and industry with a reputation for innovative education, enterprise and leading edge, applied research.

University of Glasgow
Address: Glasgow, G12 8QQ, Scotland
Tel: 44 (0)141 330 2000
Founded in 1451, Glasgow is the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world. In 1840 we became the first university in the UK to appoint a Professor of Engineering, and in 1957, the first in Scotland to have an electronic computer.

University of Aberdeen
Address: King's College
Aberdeen AB24 3FX
Tel: +44 (0)1224-272000
Founded in 1495, as Scotland's third oldest university and the fifth oldest in the UK. Currently placed 129th in the THE QS World University Rankings

University of Dundee
Address: Nethergate, Dundee,
DD1 4HN, Scotland, UK
Tel: 01382 383 000
One of the world's top 200 universities with much of our research described as "world leading".

Edinburgh College of Art
Address: Lauriston Place
Edinburgh EH3 9DF, Scotland, United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)131 221 6000
One of the most successful independent art colleges in Europe, offering a range of programmes across art, design, architecture and landscape architecture at undergraduate, postgraduate and research degree level. Founded in 1907, the College is now home to around 1,700 full-time students.


Edinburgh has a distinguished literary tradition. In 2004, the city was declared the first UNESCO City of Literature. Writers such as James Boswell, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Walter Scott, Alexander McCall Smith, and JK Rowling all lived and worked in Edinburgh. Today, the city is the home of many publishing companies.

National Library of Scotland
Address: George IV Bridge
Edinburgh EH1 1EW
Tel: +44 (0)131 623 3804

Scottish Poetry Library
Address: 5 Crichton's Close
Edinburgh EH8 8DT Scotland, UK
Tel: 44 (0)131 557 2876

Update 8/04/2011


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