Unit 12: The Education System

This unit gives an overview of the Scottish education system and outlines Curriculum for Excellence, Additional Support for Learning, Attendance and Exclusion, the awards system and school inspection system.

Unit objectives

Participants will:

  • Be given an overview of the Scottish education system
  • Examine in outline the Curriculum for Excellence, Additional Support for Learning, Attendance and Exclusion, awards system and school inspection system

Resources required to deliver unit

  • The education system presentation
  • Handouts: Curriculum for Excellence fact files (2), Curriculum for Excellence summary, Early years - Supporting Progress, Supporting Children's Learning Code of Practice (Revised edition), SCQF ready reckoner, A guide for parents about school attendance
  • Flipchart and pens
  • Access to internet would be an advantage, though not a requirement, since the web links could be provided as follow-up activities

Introduction to trainer

This unit is specifically aimed at foster carers, kinship carers, residential care staff and social workers. The aim of the unit is to help participants to feel comfortable in their general understanding of the education system, and to become aware of the considerable amount of resources (mainly web-based) designed specifically for parents and carers. The unit content provides an overview of education in Scotland, and an introduction to the curriculum for excellence, examination system and awards, and the new school inspection system (joint with other services for children). Complementary units are: ‘The looked after child’s world in the education system’ which is concerned with what it is like to be a pupil/student; and ‘Making it better at home’, which addresses ways in which carers can become involved in their child/young person’s education.

This unit can be tailored to suit the needs of participants. For example, you might choose to examine in greater depth one stage of education, such as the early years. The web links provided above contain many useful resources and you may want to print off materials to provide additional hand-outs for the group. Also, consider inviting a guest speaker who could be a specialist in a particular stage of education. The unit might also form the basis for a series of support meetings for carers. There are useful materials on the Education Scotland website. For example, within the Curriculum for Excellence section of the website there is a considerable wealth of resources, including case studies, documents and video clips.

Outline of Unit

  • Introduction
  • Overview of the education system in Scotland
  • Introduction to Curriculum for Excellence
  • The examination system and awards
  • Additional Support for Learning
  • Attendance and exclusion
  • Joint School inspections

Trainer presentation (10-15 minutes)

Overview of the education system in Scotland

Most people are aware of the structure of the education system from personal experience, but their knowledge of the details is likely to be incomplete along with knowledge of the curriculum for excellence. The notes below provide information to help you to design a brief introductory presentation. If you have internet access, you might choose to open the links detailed below to demonstrate the range of resource available and to stimulate discussion, depending on the needs of the group and the time available.

Begin by outlining the content of the unit (slide 1). You might like to use slide 2 as a stimulus to discussion aimed at establishing the personal knowledge of group members. For convenience the education system is usually described in age-related stages: Anti-pre-school, pre-school education (three and four year olds); primary school (P1 to P7, ages five to 11/12); secondary school (S1 to S6, ages 11/12 to 17/18), further education (age 16+) and higher education. Children follow a broad general education from age 3-15 (Pre-school to S3), followed by a Senior Phase (S4 to S6, ages 15-18) where they have the opportunity to gain qualifications.  We have included the Anti-pre-school stage because of the increasing emphasis on this area by the Scottish Government, and the acknowledgement that this stage is crucial in a child’s development.

Scottish Education is undergoing a period of change with the introduction of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). Curriculum for Excellence aims to provide a coherent, more flexible and enriched learning experience from 3-18, firmly focused on the needs of children whatever their circumstance. CfE supports children as they learn and develop the four capacities:

  • Successful learners
  • Responsible citizens
  • Confident individuals
  • Effective contributors

CfE is an approach that should be followed by all those who contribute to the education of Scotland’s children, wherever their learning takes place. This includes the learning opportunities that are delivered through youth work.  Schools are expected to work in the partnership with external agencies, including social work and youth work organisations, in order to meet the learning needs of all children. Education Scotland’s team of HM Inspectors expect to see evidence of joint planning and partnership work when they carry out school work.

Early years education is regarded as an important stage in developing good attitudes to learning and local authorities must offer each child 475 hours of free pre-school education per year (less for children who start pre-school later in the year). This is usually provided as five 2½ hour sessions per week. Attendance at school is compulsory for children aged between five and 16. A useful, freely accessible, source for anyone who would like a more detailed overview of the Scottish education system visit the Scottish Government website.

Further education has become increasingly important in Scotland and there is an FE college geographically close to most people. Most FE colleges provide a very wide range of courses: vocational; adult basic education; higher education (e.g. HNC/HND). Many colleges have special arrangements with universities to allow seamless progression to degree courses. The supportive environment of colleges mean that they are important resources for many young people leaving care, or for adults with a looked after background who would like to improve their level of education. Further Education colleges have designated managers for looked after children.

There are generally no fees for undertaking full time courses of further and higher education in Scotland – where it relates to studying for a first HNC/HND or degree course. There are various financial support arrangements available to encourage progression in education beyond compulsory schooling. For example, Educational Maintenance Allowances (EMAs) are means-tested, weekly payments made to young people aged 16-18 who attend school or further education. For more information, see the EMA Scotland website. There may be other financial benefits available for part-time further education. Individual FE colleges and specialist careers advisers will provide advice. Financial assistance (e.g. Young Student Bursary)  for courses at HNC level or higher is provided by the Student Awards Agency for Scotland.

The Frank Buttle Trust, a charitable organisation provides a variety of practical solutions to aid vulnerable children and young people, including funding a place at boarding school for a 13 year old with alcoholic parents, where they can get the structure and support missing at home. Including creating a tailored package of support for an isolated teenager, to help them access or stay in education or training, or to secure a job.

Introduction to the curriculum

Trainer introduction (5 minutes)

Historically, the curriculum is the method by which children are guided to become adults, i.e. learning the skills needed to function in the adult world. It’s not surprising, therefore, that attempts to change the curriculum normally provoke considerable debate. The word itself comes from Latin and when translated literally means running or following a course. It came in time to refer to a course of instruction and its first use in this way is said to have been in Scotland – at Glasgow University in the 17th Century. In its modern usage, the term refers both to the broad areas which are thought to be relatively enduring (language, science etc.) and the more specific content to be learned at particular stages. Virtually all modern societies specify what should be learned, though some are more prescriptive than others.

Activity (20-30 minutes)

Either of the following activities is suitable-

View the following video clip: The Northern Alliance have produced a video detailing the background to the Curriculum for Excellence. The film is narrated by Keir Bloomer, a member of the original Curriculum Review Group. Please follow this link to the website where you can watch the film and discuss.
http://www.youthscotland.org.uk/curriculum-for-excellence/cfe-and cld.htm.


Divide the participants into groups with flipchart paper and pens and the instruction that they are to advise the Cabinet Secretary for Education on the broad areas for a new curriculum. What would be on their list of ‘must haves’ and on a list of ‘desirables’? Emphasise that this can be ‘blue skies’ thinking and participants should not feel confined by familiar subject or thematic titles. Display flipcharts and invite participants to ‘defend’ their proposals. Show slide 5, the ‘four capacities’ which underpin the 3-18 curriculum and slide 9, the eight broad areas which act as a framework for learning and compare these with the ideas of participants. Distribute the handout, Curriculum for Excellence, available as part of the training materials, which outlines the ‘four capacities’ underpinning the new 3-18 curriculum and the eight broad areas which act as a framework for learning. Recommend the following sources:

Early years

Trainer Introduction (5 minutes)

Curriculum for Excellence provides a consistent framework for all stages of education from 3 to 18. The curriculum for the early years (pre-school to P1) is based on the principle of active learning, literally exploiting a child’s natural curiosity. For most children this is simply an extension of play and exploration encouraged by parents. Some looked after children may have been deprived of these important early developmental opportunities and so will need additional support. Carers can help at home and by ensuring that nursery staff are aware of particular needs. Some schools provide nurture groups to support vulnerable children. The Nurture Group Network website has a lot of useful resources which you could use to help you tailor the content of the unit to suit carers of very young children, e.g. ‘A Day in the Life of a Nurture Group’.

A recent development is the introduction of the Early Years Change fund which provides free early years learning and childcare provision from April 2012 for all looked after children of two years of age.

Activity (15 minutes)

This activity is for use with carers of a child at the early years stage, and is designed to encourage participants to think about the opportunities available for supporting development and learning. Distribute the handout, ‘Early years, Supporting Progress’ and use the six questions as a guide for discussion. Having an early years specialist available to answer questions is an option.

More information about early learning, including case studies and links to a range of resources, is available on the Early Years section of the Curriculum for Excellence or the Children in Scotland website.

Primary and Secondary School

Trainer presentation (10-15 minutes)

The broad general education under Curriculum for Excellence straddles early years, primary and secondary education and provides opportunities for progressive competence in eight broad curriculum areas. Children are encouraged to apply their learning, knowledge and skills across the different curriculum areas.

In the secondary school in S1 to S3, the broad curriculum continues to allow learners to gain a greater depth in their learning in each curriculum area.  There will, however, be increasing opportunities for learners to start specialising in areas of specific interest to them.

Curriculum for Excellence emphasises: skills for learning and skills for life and work; knowledge and understanding of society, Scottish contexts, history and culture and Scotland’s place in the world; and experience of challenge and success.

The ‘senior phase’ of the curriculum (S4-S6) introduces more formal assessment and certification through the introduction of the new National 4 and National 5 assessments. Not all young people will be in school during the senior phase of their education and it is essential that all young people have the opportunity to realise their Curriculum for Excellence entitlements regardless of where their learning is taking place.

It is important for carers and social workers to make opportunities to become involved in the child’s education and to request regular information about progress. A good source of more detailed information about the curriculum at different stages and advice about how you can provide support and encouragement at home is the Parentzone website.

Many looked after children have deficits in literacy and numeracy, due to a lack of opportunities for reinforcement at home or as a result of absence from school. These deficits impact adversely on other areas of the curriculum, particularly in secondary school where the range of subjects and the number of teachers are greater. Although it is difficult to recover lost ground, it is not impossible. Carers need to ensure that appropriate help is provided by liaising with schools and the educational psychology service and being ‘pushy parents’ if necessary.

The examination system and awards

Trainer presentation and discussion (10 minutes)

Assessment is important for carers because it provides indicators of progress and early warning of difficulties – provided there is proper monitoring. This last point is vitally important since the school records of looked after children may be incomplete due to absences, or changes of school or placement. But assessment for in the Senior Phase (S4-S6) is generally related to National Qualifications. Colleges, universities and employers use qualifications as part of their processes of selection, so they are important to young people, both as a mark of achievement and also as a passport to realising their aspirations.

Entrance to higher education and many types of employment, is quantified in terms of attainment of ‘Highers’, examinations typically sat in S5 and S6. The Higher is part of a range of qualifications which both increase in level and also overlap. For convenience this range can be considered within a single system, known as the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). In this system, the ‘National 1’ award is at Level 1, Highers are at Level 6 and a master’s degree is at Level 11. Slide 11 shows the framework. The responsibility for administering and assuring the quality of school and college qualifications in Scotland rests with the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). The Services for Learners area of the SQA website is a useful resource for young people and carers.

Additional Support for Learning (Scotland) Act (as amended)

Trainer presentation and discussion (5 minutes)

The Act automatically deems that all looked after children have additional support needs, unless the education authority determine that they do not require additional support in order to benefit from school education. Also, authorities must consider whether each looked after child for whose school education they are responsible for requires a coordinated support plan (CSP).  Education authorities have duties to identify, make provision for, and review the support required by pupils for whose education they are responsible. Further information is available at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Education/Schools/welfare/ASL

The code of practice has been published to help local authorities and other agencies implement the provisions of the Act. The code provides particular advice and guidance on the provisions of the Act in relation to looked after children and young people.. The Code of Practice can be viewed at:

There is mention of the role of residential child care workers in supporting looked after away from home children with their education.


Enquire is the national advice and information services for Additional Support for Learning. Their role is twofold; they offer impartial and independent advice to parents, carers and practitioners via a helpline (0845 123 2303)- and also provide a website, with guides and pod casts to provide advice and guidance to children and young people who may have been identified as needing additional support. Distribute the hand-out Extra support at school: The rights of looked after children. Enquire also produce a parents’ guide to additional support for learning which is very helpful in understanding the provisions of the Act which is available from

Attendance and Exclusion

Trainer presentation and discussion (10 minutes)

Guide to Attendance

The Scottish Government have published guidance on attendance in school titled ‘Included, Engaged and Involved Part 1: attendance in Scottish schools. It looks at what schools and local authorities can do to promote attendance and manage absence and is available at the following link-

The Scottish government have also published a guide for parents about school attendance. It is available by accessing the following link-

National Parenting Strategy

The National Parenting Strategy, a Scottish government initiative, was launched in October 2012.  The Strategy seeks to turn the Scottish Government’s aspiration “for Scotland to be the best place in the world for children and young people to grow up” into practical action.”

The National Parenting Strategy recognises the vital role that parents and carers play in raising the next generation of Scottish children. It involves a proactive and dynamic approach to supporting the involvement of parents and carers in decisions and services that affect children, by providing support to families when they need it.

Included, Engaged and Involved: Part 2: A positive approach to managing school exclusions.

This publication addresses a challenging question of how within Curriculum for Excellence, we keep all learners included, engaged and involved and how we prevent the need to exclude a learner from their learning environment, however temporary. The publication can be accessed by the following link: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2011/03/17095258/0

There is a section specifically around looked after children and questions for designated managers to consider around excluding looked after children (Page 42-46)

School inspection

Trainer introduction (5 minutes)

Education Scotland aims to provide assurance on the quality of Scottish education and promote improvement and innovation to enhance learner’s experiences. Each year, Education Scotland inspect and report on a sample of schools and also the educational functions of local authorities. School inspection reports available from Education Scotland website.

From April 2011, a new government body was developed to simplify the process for the Social Work inspectorate. SCSWIS (Social Care and Social Work Improvement Scotland) incorporates inspections previously carried out by the Care Commission and Social Work Inspection Agency (SWIA), along with responsibility for the inspection of some services previously carried out by HMIE (HM Inspectorate for Education).

The new model will focus specifically on the impact of services on children’s lives in keeping with the Scottish Government’s Getting it Right for Every Child approach by working with Education Scotland, COSLA and the Scottish Social Services Council. Carers and Parents can access inspection reports regarding Supported Accommodation, Childminders and Day Care providers on the Social Care and Social Work Improvement Scotland (SCSWIS) - everyday name: Care Inspectorate

Activity (20 minutes)

This activity involves examining an Education Scotland school evaluation report. Download a report, either for a school known to you, or choose one at random, preferably a school which has been inspected recently. Points to reflect on include: the grading system used; the role of quality indicators in both school and care settings; opportunities for carers to ensure that the needs of looked after children are raised during school inspections.

Schools are encouraged to self evaluate using the 5 broad areas of excellence.  For more information see: Journey to excellence website

Key messages (slide 14)

  • The four capacities of Curriculum for Excellence are: successful learners; confident individuals; responsible citizens; effective contributors
  • The early years curriculum is based on the principle of active learning. Nurture groups may be available to support vulnerable children.
  • The eight curriculum areas used to structure school learning are: mathematics; languages; social studies; expressive arts; sciences; technologies; health and wellbeing; religious and moral education.
  • The system of National Qualifications is the responsibility of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).
  • Joint Inspections of Services to Children

Resources to support this unit