Academic Curriculum in Scotland

Scottish Boarding Schools can give your child an education that will serve them well in  today’s modern, global, changing world. Students have a choice three different curriculum and qualifications – English, Scottish or International Baccalaureate and all lead to internationally recognised qualifications that equip students for university and life beyond school.

Most boarding schools in Scotland offer the English curriculum – AS and A levels. Some follow the Scottish curriculum – Higher and Advanced Higher. Others offer the International Baccalaureate.

What’s the difference between English A levels and Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers?

Traditionally, Scottish education remained broader for longer to give students a good breadth of study before specialising in their chosen subjects. Typically, students sit 5 Highers at the age of 17 and the following year, they sit 3 Advanced Highers, which means that they don’t specialise until their final year of school. Under the English system, students typically study 3 A levels over 2 years which means fewer subjects are studied than in the Scottish system, but in greater depth.

All Scotland’s boarding schools are free to offer whichever qualifications they think best meet the needs of their students. So it’s not uncommon for schools that mainly offer Scottish Highers to offer A levels in specific subjects where they feel the course content is better (e.g. Art and Music). Equally, boarding schools that mainly offer English A levels also offer some subjects from the Scottish curriculum. So families can choose whichever system they prefer although all are internationally recognised for entrance to university and all will serve students well in their lives beyond school.

International Baccalaureate

The international baccalaureate is currently offered by two of Scotland’s boarding schools – Fettes College in Edinburgh and St Leonards School in St Andrews. It’s an academically challenging programme of education, with final examinations, that prepares students, aged 16 to 19, for university and life beyond and it’s been designed to meet students’ intellectual, social and emotional needs.

Exam Results at Scotland’s Boarding Schools

Exam results  at Scotland’s boarding schools are consistently good, year after year. 50% of students achieve grade A and 97% of students’ progress to university. A particular strength is the proportion of students who excel at sciences and languages. However it’s not possible to draw fair and meaningful comparisons between schools’ results because:

  • schools offer different qualifications
  • they have different policies on entering students for exams at different stages
  • the cohort of students sitting exams varies widely from school to school
  • league tables that appear in the media do not reflect successful appeals (where grades and pass rates have improved)
  • some schools are academically selective while others admit students of mixed abilities