Academic Curriculum in Scotland

Students have a choice three different curriculum and qualifications – English, Scottish or International Baccalaureate – although all lead to internationally recognised qualifications and equip students for university entrance and life beyond school. All of Scotland’s boarding schools provide a purposeful learning environment, high-quality teaching and a focus on helping individual students to reach their potential.

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.

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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.

Queen Victoria 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. Further details can be found here.

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.

Each boarding school’s results (listed A-Z) can be seen here.

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

The best advice to parents is to choose a school that suits their son or daughter’s particular needs and abilities and to interpret league tables with caution. Parents are likely to gain a more accurate understanding of a school’s performance by asking, for instance, about its leaver destinations and the proportion of students who secured a place at their first choice of university.

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