Schooling in Scotland is quite different to Australia…actually totally confusing for newbies. When we arrived in September 2016 we had to first find a rental property and then get our identity documents sorted before we could even think of enrolling our children in school.
- Read our article: Choosing a High School in Glasgow.
Let me simply say, that when you are choosing a place to live – if you have school aged children – make sure you choose an address that is in the catchment area of your desired schools.
If you have primary school aged children who will be heading into high school within a year or two – and you intend on staying put at your accommodation for the immediate future – you will want to find out what the catchment area is for both the primary and high schools.
Following is an overview of what our considerations for schooling were and a summary of the research we did to prepare us for enrolling the kids as soon as we arrived.
UK Schooling: Considerations and information
Our main challenge was making sure our 17 yo son, who was turning 18 yo four months after we arrived, was able to complete his secondary studies and graduate from high school.
Both boys would need to transition to a different curriculum and possibly skip six months of school – in addition to building new relationships and fitting in to a new cultural environment.
- Before we left Australia in September 2016, our two boys were in year 8 and year 11 in a Queensland high school. They had completed the first 3/4 of their school year.
- The school year goes from January 2016 to December 2016.
- The Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) specifies standards.
Our concerns were:
- Our 17 yo was 3/4 through year 11, which is the second last year of high school (secondary school) in Australia.
- We needed to get him enrolled into a school in Scotland to continue his studies so he could get the equivalent of a Certificate of Education – given to Australian students at the end of year 12, and considered to be the minimum qualification for most employment and also what is needed to qualify for entry into university (along with good grades).
- Both of our sons were older for their school years in Australia. One was about to turn 15 yo (in February 2017) and the other 18 yo (in January 2017). We didn’t really want either of them to have to repeat any of their schooling.
- If the 17 yo son went straight into year 12 in Scotland, he would be 18yo when he graduates. If the school wanted him to repeat year 11, then he would turn 19 yo in year 12, and be 19.5 yo when he graduates.
- If the 17 yo didn’t have to repeat in Scotland – would he have completed sufficient studies to be awarded the equivalent of a Certificate of Education so employers consider him to have finished his secondary schooling?
- The school year goes from August 2016 to June 2017.
- Government funded (‘state’) schools are free for children aged 5–19.
- When we arrived in mid-September, the boys had missed 1/4 of their next year of schooling – year 9 and year 12.
- We didn’t know whether they had to repeat the last 3/4 of the year they had just nearly completed (i.e. year 8 and year 11) – or if they could skip the first 1/4 of the next year and go straight into years 9 and 12.
- Kids can finish school when they’re 16-19 yo in S5 (Fifth year) or S6 (Sixth year), which are the equivalent of year 11 and year 12.
- Students take a Scottish Qualifications Certificate course. At the secondary school level they complete a ‘Highers’ qualification: ‘Higher‘ in S5 and/or S6; or ‘Advanced Higher‘ in S6.
- This is the equivalent of Australia’s Certificate of Education and what is needed to qualify for entry into university (along with good grades).
- Most English universities, and some Scottish universities, require ‘Advanced Higher’ qualification levels. These are considered to be similar to England’s ‘A levels’.
The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) has 12 levels. The top six levels are most relevant to school leavers and university entrance. [Note: Most university courses in Scotland are 4 years long.]
- SCQF level 6 = ‘Higher’ and Scottish Vocational Qualification (SVQ) level 3 (i.e. SVQ 3).
- SCQF level 7 = ‘Advanced Higher’ and Higher Education level HNC and CertHE (Certificate level).
- SCQF level 8 = Higher Education level HND and DipHE (Diploma level).
- SCQF level 9 = Higher Education level of an ordinary Degree or a Graduate Certificate.
- SCQF level 10 = Higher Education level of an Honours Degree or a Graduate Diploma.
- SCQF level 11 = Higher Education level of a Masters Degree and SVQ 5.
- SCQF level 12 = Higher Education level of a Doctorate.
Options for older high schools students (17-18 yo in years 11-12)
We considered enrolling the 17 yo into College in Scotland to study a one-year NQ Acting and Performance course which is apparently the equivalent of an SCQF level 6.
- This is the equivalent of a ‘Higher’ level that he would have achieved in S5 or S6, the equivalent of years 11 and 12. Students who excel in their studies can be awarded an ‘Advanced Higher’ grade.
- This is a ‘Further Education’ and on a UK Ancestry Visa we may only be charged a lower ‘Home’ fee, rather than an ‘Overseas’ fee.
Once he’s completed the NQ course, he can continue his studies at College and study a two-year HND Acting and Performance course which is apparently the equivalent of an SCQF level 8.
- This goes beyond the ‘Advanced Higher’ he would achieve in years 11 and 12 in a Scottish secondary school if he achieved brilliant grades and is actually equivalent to a Diploma level.
- This is a ‘Higher Education’ course and on a UK Ancestry Visa means we will likely have to pay ‘Overseas’ fees – usually starting at £3,500.
- He can then apply for a Drama School or University.
As we arrived in mid-September 2016, and the College year started in August 2016, our oldest son had missed the 2016 start date of his NQ Acting and Performance College course.
He also needed to apply for the 2017 intake, beginning in August 2017.
- Applications for the NQ Acting and Performance course involve an audition process in about March 2017 with an additional session in May 2017 if necessary.
- For the Glasgow Clyde College, we contacted [email protected] to find out when we can apply for a place in 2017. Apparently you can apply as soon as it is available on the website. However after several emails and many phone calls we never got a response. The local high school had a direct line of communication and were more helpful.
Year 12 versus NQ course: equivalent of completing high school in Scotland
Option 1: Gap Year then NQ course (&/or amateur theatre/volunteering)
- Plan A: If 17yo son can’t get into year 12 (S6) and needed to repeat year 11 (S5) – perhaps he could take a gap year from September 2016 to August 2017?
- If he is accepted into the NQ college course, he will be studying drama for at least one, but probably three years (by completing two more years at the HND level).
- If 17yo son is not accepted into the NQ college course, and he has not completed his year 12 equivalent – he has lost his opportunity to graduate from high school with a piece of paper that says he is educated to a satisfactory level for employment.
- Plan B: join an amateur theatre club and volunteer in drama / acting activities locally in Glasgow to maintain his interest, confidence and competency.
Option 2: Year 12 then NQ course (&/or amateur theatre/volunteering)
- Plan A: If he doesn’t need to repeat year 11 and can go straight into year 12 – he can take drama as a subject, as well as other core subjects of English and Maths, and he will have a stronger application for his College course. He will also get to socialise with kids his own age – some of which are also interested in acting.
- Plan B: achieve at least pass grades in all subjects without the stress of aiming for university entrance level grades (i.e. A’s).
- Plan C: join an amateur theatre club and volunteer in drama / acting activities locally in Glasgow to maintain his interest, confidence and competency.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland…
They have a National Qualifications Framework with levels and grades.
- Years 10 and 11 are usually studied between 14yo and 16yo (referred to as High School).
- Completion of year 11 provides a General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE).
- Entry exams and interviews are common place.
- If a student completes their GCSE in at least English, mathematics and science they are currently awarded A* (pronounced ‘A-star’), A – G graded and U ungraded.
- Grades are clustered into: Higher A*-C; Intermediate B-E, and Foundation D-G.
- From June 2017, educational reforms will see the letters becoming numbers, with A*-G and U (‘ungraded’) becoming 9-1 with 9 being the highest grade achievable.
- According to wikipedia, A-levels offer students the option of completing sixth form in year 13, aged 17-18yo. [Does this mean they then do another year of school? What if they are 18yo when they finish fifth form?]
Why we decided to live in Scotland
Learning about the differences between the Scottish and English school systems and speaking with staff at schools and government and council organisations helped us decide to live in Scotland.
As we were arriving in mid September and one of our sons was nearly 18 yo, we couldn’t guarantee that we could enrol both of them in school if we chose to live in England.
The outcome: What happened with our kids
Thankfully, the school we were eligible to enrol our boys into (Mearns Castle High School – see photo above), accepted both our sons. They had a place for each of them. The younger son commenced in S3 (equivalent to year 9 in Australia) and the older son commenced in S6 (equivalent to year 12 in Australia).
They both had to catch up on about 3 months of schooling and adapt to a very different way of doing certain things. English for example in the final year has a different way of responding to what I know as reading comprehension. I won’t go into the details, but our son who was usually an A-grade English student struggled a little bit.
Also, kids study a language in Scotland – usually French – from P1 (equivalent to grade 1 in Australia) until they are about 15-16 years old (the end of S4/grade 10). The younger son had missed out on about eight years of French so he is only studying the very basic level of French. And he has to study French for another full year. He’s not impressed.
Fast forward to now, May 2017, and our older boy has turned 18 yo. He has finished his high school studies, attended his Leaver’s Ceremony (where he received his graduation certificate) and only had one exam to go (a 2-3 hour exam for English) in a few weeks time and then his prom (aka formal) in mid-June. He’s basically finished High School. So that’s a bonus. We fast forwarded him six months. He had to work for it but it’s done.
Be aware. If your child is in a similar situation (they’re in the final two years of high school) and they definitely want to go to university – and you can afford the international fees of £7,000 to £15,000 a year:
- They will need to work exceptionally hard to get the necessary grades in the subjects they desire:
- The subject curriculum is different and they will be catching up on at least six month’s worth of work (because the school calendar runs from September to June, rather than February to November).
- There also won’t be guaranteed a place in the subject they were previously doing. Not all schools offer drama as a higher subject for example.
If you’ve got any questions about schooling in Glasgow and Scotland, please ask them in the comments below. If I can’t answer them, the boys should be able to.