The 3-18 curriculum in Scotland

Curriculum for Excellence is Scotland's curriculum for children and young people aged 3-18. It's an approach designed to provide young people with the knowledge, skills and attributes they need for learning, life and work in the 21st century.

It aims to enable every child or young person to be a:

  • Successful learner

  • Confident individual

  • Responsible citizen

  • Effective contributor

Stages and levels

The curriculum is broken into two broad stages:

The broad general education is divided into five curriculum levels (Early, First, Second, Third and Fourth) across eight curriculum areas.

Curriculum areas

Expressive arts

Includes art and design, dance, drama and music. Your child will get the chance to find out about and express their feelings and emotions and those of others.

Health and well-being

Mental, emotional, social and physical well-being, planning for choices and changes, PE, activity and sport, food and health, substance misuse and relationships, sexual health and parenthood.


Includes learning about language(s) important in your child's society and education (English, Gàidhlig), as well as learning an additional language.


Includes using real life experiences to make predictions, connect to other things, provide skills to understand and examine information, simplify and solve problems, assess risk and make informed decisions.

Religious and moral education

Includes exploring the world’s major religions as well as views that are non-religious. Your child will think about their own beliefs and values.


Includes learning about the natural world and living things, forces, chemical changes and our senses.

Social studies

Includes developing understanding of the world by learning about other people and their values, in different times, places and circumstances.


Includes business, computing science, food, textiles, craft, engineering, graphics and applied technologies.

Primary education

Children in Scotland usually start primary school in the August term when they are aged between four-and-a-half and five-and-a-half years old. Children will be at primary school for seven years before progressing to secondary school.

From age three (at an early learning and childcare setting), through primary school and until the end of S3, children receive a rounded education. This stage of Curriculum for Excellence (Scotland's 3-18 curriculum) is called the broad general education.

The broad general education is divided into five curriculum levels. Most children at primary school will be learning at the early, first or second level. However, this is a general guide: your child will progress at their own pace through the curriculum levels. The curriculum is designed to be flexible to permit careful planning for those with additional support needs, including those who have a learning difficulty and those who are particularly able or talented.

There are five curriculum levels - Early, First, Second, Third and Fourth - in the broad general education (from early years to the end of S3).

This diagram shows the five curriculum levels with progression to the senior phase (S4-S6).

For more specific and individualised information about your child or their learning, you should contact the school.

Secondary education

The secondary school curriculum has two distinct phases: the broad general education (S1-S3) and the senior phase.

The broad general education, (S1-S3) is designed around planned experiences that build on the skills and knowledge developed during earlier stages of your child's education.

At the end of the broad general education, your child will be supported in planning a course of study through what is commonly called the senior phase. The senior phase provides scope for more specialised study and gaining qualifications.

Your child will also have opportunities, at all stages, to gain recognition for learning and achievements that take place outside the classroom. For more specific and individualised information about your child’s learning, contact the school.

The senior phase

The senior phase curriculum, from S4 to S6 (from around ages 15 to 18), follows a young person's broad general education, building firmly on the Experiences and Outcomes they will have experienced and achieved to end of S3.

It enables them to extend and deepen their learning and continue to develop skills for learning, life and work, through qualifications and also through a range of opportunities for personal development (for example work experience, volunteering etc).

It ultimately supports young people in moving on to the next stage – whether that is college, university, training or employment.

Flexibility and choice

In the senior phase, schools and their partners (for example colleges, employers or community learning and development providers) now have flexibility to offer a range of pathways that meet the needs and raise the attainment levels of all learners – including pupils who might previously have become disengaged from education.

Schools are taking a range of approaches to the senior phase and are able to offer greater personalisation and choice for young people in a variety of ways, for example by:

  • designing the senior phase as a three-year experience rather than planning each year separately

  • delivering qualifications over different timescales in response to young people's needs and prior achievements

  • developing pathways for able learners, which bypass qualifications at lower levels to allow more time to be spent on more challenging learning at higher levels

  • providing specific and appropriate programmes that maximise achievement and attainment for young people planning to leave after S4

  • developing local partnerships where schools and other education providers, such as colleges, work together to increase the range of choices available to young people at all levels.

Academic and vocational qualifications

As well as the new National Qualifications, which offer increased flexibility with a greater focus on skills and applying learning to real-life situations, there is also a wide range of SQA vocational qualifications and awards that young people can take as part of their senior phase curriculum. These include:

More information on SQA Awards.

Applying to local state schools

Catchment areas

Local authorities set out catchment areas for each of their primary schools, each of which is associated with a secondary school. Children living within a catchment area are normally provided with a place at the school serving that area.

Enrolling my child

Local authorities usually need you to enrol your child for primary school several months before school starts and some expect you to enrol by a specific date. Information about procedures for enrolling children at their local school and how to submit a placing request for another school is usually made widely available in nursery and primary schools, community centres, libraries and in local newspapers.

You should check with your local authority what they expect you to do.

What happens if a school is full?

Occasionally, there may be too many children for the number of places at a school. When this happens, a local authority will allocate places according to a clear set of rules.

They will often do this by looking at how far a child lives from the school and whether they already have a brother or sister at the school.

Placing requests

As a parent, you have the right to ask for a place at a school other than your local catchment area school. To do this, you need to make a placing request to your local authority.

If there is space at the school, the local authority must agree to your request. However, the authority does not have to expand the school to meet placing requests. The authority can also hold back places for children who may move into the catchment area.

To make a placing request, you should contact your local authority.

How can I appeal?

If there are more placing requests than places available, the education authority will allocate places according to a clear set of rules. If your placing request is turned down, you can refer this decision to an independent appeal committee set up by the authority.

If the appeal committee backs the authority's decision, you can refer the case to the sheriff for your area.

Celsium's education consultant will help and support you with any appeal.

Denominational education

Denominational schools are run in the same way as other local authority schools. The majority of denominational state schools in Scotland are Roman Catholic. You can get more information from the Scottish Catholic Education Service.

You can find out more about denominational schools in your area by contacting your local authority. There are also independent schools which offer denominational education.

Religious education and religious observance

Every state school is open to pupils of all denominations. As a parent, you can withdraw your children from instruction in religious education and from religious observance.

Centres of excellence

If you have a talented child, they may benefit from attending one of Scotland's six national centres of excellence – schools which allow gifted children to maximise their potential.

The following centres are located within comprehensive schools from which students gain a broad general education whilst receiving additional time for specialist study:




To find out more, contact your local authority.

Private / independent schools

Independent schools (sometimes called private or fee-paying schools) are privately owned and self-financing. They are not part of the state-funded system and therefore do not receive financial support from the government.

Fees and financial help

In most cases a fee is charged to cover costs. Most schools have scholarships and bursaries available. Parents should ask for details from the school they are interested in.

Registration and inspection

All independent schools need to be registered with Scottish Ministers through the Registrar of Independent Schools. The Registrar:

  • ensures that independent schools take due care over the health, welfare and education of children.

  • has responsibility for keeping the Register of Independent Schools and for ensuring that it is open to the public.

Education Scotland publishes inspection reports giving information about the education in a school. Independent schools that have boarding facilities will also be inspected by the Care Inspectorate on a twice yearly basis.

The Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS) represents almost all Scotland’s independent schools. To help parents they:

  • publish a directory to provide information on choosing an independent school

  • have a detailed list of schools available on their website

  • can provide general advice to parents about choosing an independent school