Relocating? We discuss differences between the English and Scottish education systems


As England and Scotland are both nations within the United Kingdom, it is easy to assume – as many of our clients do – that they share an education system. However, education is actually a highly devolved area that differs quite significantly across the United Kingdom.

In a previous post, we discussed how Cardiff’s New Curriculum for Wales is widening the gap between the English and Welsh models. In this post, we want to take look at Scotland’s education system and explain how it to differs from the English system.

The first thing to say is that Scotland has been distancing itself from Westminster’s approach to education for longer than Wales or Northern Ireland. Therefore, the Scottish system is characterised by its relative uniqueness from the other UK home nations.


One of the most structural differences between the English and Scottish systems surrounds the approach each government takes to centralization/devolution. England generally has a more centralized approach, whilst Scotland tends to devolve educational matters further down.

English local governments retain control of educational administration but have little to no power over the structures and curriculum that pupils follow during their time in education. In contrast, Scotland’s government awards powerful management roles to local governments and individual school senior leadership teams. 

Additionally, there are some basic logistical differences that those considering a move to either England or Scotland should be aware of.

One example is pupil starting ages and cut-off months. In England, pupils need to be at least 4 years and 1 day old when they begin school. In Scotland, pupils generally start school a little later when they are 4 1/2 years old.

In addition, the Scottish school term starts and finishes earlier than it does in England; pupils will start the school year in mid-August and finish the year at the end of June. In England, however, the school semester begins in September and finishes in late July.  

It is also noteworthy that class sizes tend to be slightly smaller in Scotland than in England.


Regarding the curriculum, there are significant differences between England and Scotland, with both having individual merit.

Firstly, basic numeracy and literacy skills remain the central focus of early years education for both administrations. Whilst these skills are embedded across the curriculum in both countries, a broader devolution of management in Scotland tends to widen the range of topics that get taught between different Scottish primary schools. In other words, the mediums and ways in which numeracy and literacy are taught are more fluid dependent on where you are in Scotland than they would be between the different regions of England; which tends to favour more uniformity in its approach. Though these discrepancies are somewhat limited during primary years.

However, it is at the secondary school level where the curriculum and programme of assessment become more unrecognisable on each side of the border.

The Scottish Government sets guidelines for teaching and learning but does not prescribe a set national curriculum in the way that England does. There are no national-specific subject and timing requirements. Instead, Scotland opts for a more individualized approach that allows schools and local authorities to dictate their teaching based on pupils’ interests and needs. 

Scotland labels this approach the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). Where England follows the National Curriculum, Scotland’s approach focuses on a wider and more flexible scope of subjects. Therefore, the Scottish system can generally be thought of as a broader education but with slightly less depth than its English counterpart. The English model tends to be more specialist, whereas the Scotland approach can be considered more generalist. 

Assessment differences

In secondary schools in Scotland, new qualifications were established in 2014 by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). The qualifications in Scotland are labelled as National 1, National 2, National 3, National 4, National 5, Higher, and Advanced Higher. Internal assessments include National 1-4 qualifications, whereas National 5 as well as the Higher and Advanced Highers are externally assessed by the SQA.

In England, the National Curriculum sets out four National Curriculum Tests (NCTs) – commonly referred to by their previous name: SATS (Standard Attainment Tests). The four divisions in England are called Key Stages – which Scotland has abolished in favour of a more ‘seamless’ educational structure.

English points of assessment are at the end of year 2 (Key Stage 1 SATS), year 6 (Key Stage 2 SATS), as well as continuing internal assessment during Key Stage 3 years (years 7-9); and General Certificate of Secondary Education exams (GCSEs) which are taken in years 10 and 11. Following on from this, there is no requirement for pupils to remain in full-time education, though A-level and BTEC courses remain available throughout years 12 and 13.

University Entrance

Scottish universities, such as Edinburgh and St Andrews, currently have Undergraduate ‘home fees’ capped by the Scottish Government at £1,820 for the 2022/23 academic year. Whilst this might change in the future, ‘home fees’ are available for students who are residents in Scotland for a minimum of three years prior to starting their university course.  This is a real positive for Scottish residents with children aspiring to university, as the standard tuition fee is £9250 for both UK (non-Scottish residents) studying at Scottish universities and all UK universities outside Scotland. 

If you relocating from Scotland to England or vice versa, please do not hesitate to contact us for help and support with your children’s education. We have Scotland-based education consultants who are on hand to advise.