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The Systems of Education in the UK - Scottish and NI Year Groups

April 23, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 371

Having previously looked at the structure of the school years within England and Wales the following article covers the equivalent structures across both Scotland and Northern Ireland with each following their own systems.

Northern Ireland

The school year system in Northern Ireland broadly follows the same core structure as the English/Welsh system and therefore is not as distinct as that of the Scots, although there are still few features which set it apart.

Each of the UK's systems have a cut off date at which the child's age determines the year group in which they are to join. Across the Irish sea this date is 1 September, the start of the school year, however in Northern Ireland it is 1st July (c.f. 1 March in Scotland). Although the Northern Irish school year also begins in practice on 1 September, it effectively runs from July to July with the summer holidays covering the months of July and August.

Primary school years are referred to as Primary 1 through to Primary 7 (rather than using the English terminology incorporating Reception) and therefore year numbering is comparatively one ahead of the English system, with, for example Year 7 in England being equivalent to Year 8 in Northern Ireland. In many secondary schools, however, the colloquial 'form' naming convention is still used to refer to the year groups with the 'first' to 'fifth forms' and 'lower' and 'upper sixth'.

  • Primary School/Education
  • Ages 4/5 to 10/11
  • Primary 1 to 7Secondary School/Education
  • Ages 11/12 to 17/18
  • Years 8 to 14

The primary and secondary stages are again split into Key Stages which are broadly consistent with the English system although the Foundation Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 stages both start a year behind their English equivalents.

  • Foundation Stages - Primary 1 & 2 (ages 4 to 6)
  • Key Stage 1 - Primary 3 & 4 (ages 6 to 8)
  • Key Stage 2 - Primary 5 to 7 (ages 8 to 11)
  • Key Stage 3 - Years 8 to 10 (ages 11 to 14)
  • Key Stage 4 - Years 11 & 12 (ages 14 to 16, ending in GCSEs)
  • Sixth Form/College - Years 13 & 14 (ages 16 to 18, ending in A Levels or International Baccalaureate)


As the governance of the Scottish Education system sits with the Scottish Parliament and outside of the control of Westminster, the school year system in Scotland differs considerable from those of England, Wales and Northern Ireland; from the structure of the school year groups to the process involved in determining each year's first intake.

Although the school year in Scotland runs August to August, the date at which a child's age is measured has been separated from these dates and instead the mid point, 1 March, is used. All children must start school in Aug regardless of when their birthday is in contrast with the structure south of the border. However, under this system children who turn 5 years of age between 1 March and 31 July will begin their education in the coming August alongside children who are due to turn 5 between the following 1 August and 28/29 February. Therefore, all children starting their first year of primary school should fall in the age range 4 ½ to 5 ½, with Spring-Summer borns aged 5 to 5 ½ and Autumn-Winter borns aged 4 ½ to 5.

However, this intake is flexible and so children born in January and February who would only be just over 4 ½ at the start of the school year can be held back in nursery for an extra year if the parent wishes, whilst it is also possible, although not guaranteed, to request a delay for those born in the three months preceding that. Prior to their Primary education children have access to Nursery as soon as they turn 3 years of age.

Akin to the naming convention in Northern Ireland (and contrary to England & Wales), Scottish primary school years are referred to as Primary 1 to Primary 7, however, the numbering begins again in secondary school with S1 to S6 year groups:

  • Primary School/Education
  • Ages 4/5 to 10/11
  • Primary 1 to 7Secondary School/Education
  • Ages 11/12 to 17/18
  • S1 to S6 (S5 & S6 are optional)

Due to the variation of ages in particular year groups and the fact that children take their Higher exams in S5 which can qualify them for University, some leave secondary school at this point although most remain for S6 and take their Advanced Highers before progressing.

Most Secondary Schools are variably referred to as High Schools or Academies with a few referred to as Grammar schools (although this term carries no practical meaning), colleges or simply Secondary Schools. A few schools in more remote areas provide education through both the primary and secondary levels, either up to S4 known as Junior Schools, or in entirety, simply known as Schools. However, there are also a handful of privately run schools in Scotland which sit outside of this structure and instead follow the English system.

© Stuart Mitchell 2012

If you want to find out more about systems of education in the UK, particularly if your school is considering academy status then visit Academy Conversion. If you are a parent and want more information on funding your child when they leave school the visit Junior ISA.

Source: EzineArticles
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