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School curriculum and qualifications

The Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) is the national curriculum used from nursery to secondary school. It was implemented in 2010.

It comprises a broad general education up to the end of S3 (third year in secondary) followed by a senior phase of learning from S4 to S6. Emphasis is placed on inter-disciplinary learning, skills development and encouraging personal achievement.

CfE is intended to foster four capacities in all young people:

  1. successful learners
  2. confident individuals
  3. responsible citizens
  4. effective contributors

Education Scotland oversee the implementation of the curriculum. You can find out more on Education Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence section.

Subject initiatives

We have identified curriculum areas which have specific initiatives and programmes to support learning.

Science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM)

We are improving learning in the STEM subjects so that children and young people have opportunities to gain knowledge and skills and ultimately help grow the economy. Find out more on the STEM education section of this website.

Literacy and numeracy

Literacy is fundamental to all areas of learning, as it unlocks access to the wider curriculum. Numeracy and maths provide the foundation for the rest of STEM and digital skills, as well as being important in their own right.

Literacy and numeracy initiatives include:

Read, Write, Count

This campaign gives parents of children in P1 to P3 access to a range of hints, tips and advice to help them support their child's literacy and numeracy learning in those crucial early years of primary school. It extended into P4 to P7 in areas of high deprivation in 2017. Find out more: Read, Write, Count

First Minister's Reading Challenge

This initiative aims to foster a love of reading among children and young people across Scotland. Research shows that reading for pleasure outweighs the impact of socio-economic background on pupils' success at school and is more important for a child's cognitive development than their parents' level of education. Find out more: First Minister's Reading Challenge

Making maths count

This initiative aims to transform attitudes to maths so that its value is seen as an essential skill for every career. It also aims to improving confidence and fluency in maths for children, young people, parents and all those who deliver maths education to raise attainment and achievement across learning. Find out more:


Learning for sustainability is an entitlement for all learners and relevant to all aspects of Scotland's curriculum. It includes sustainable development education, global citizenship (the idea that we are citizens of an emerging world community) and outdoor learning.

This policy is in line with recommendations in the Vision 2030+ Report. Our aim is for every school and centre to develop a coherent, whole school approach to learning for sustainability that impacts on their culture, curriculum and campus and connects them fully to their wider communities.

Find out more:

Music education

There is evidence which indicates that making music can contribute to the enhancement of non-musical skills and lead to other beneficial outcomes.

We produced guidance on instrumental music tuition in schools

This is for local authorities and teachers and was produced in collaboration with Heads of Instrumental Teaching Scotland, Education Institute for Scotland (EIS), Education Scotland and Scottish Association for Music Education (SAME). It offers advice on how best to organise a service providing high quality instrumental tuition, on an equitable basis.

Religious and moral education/religious observance

Religious and moral education and religious education in Roman Catholic schools is an important whole-school activity.

We produce guidance for teachers:

Further information on religious observance is available in the CfE Briefing 16 - religious observance/time for reflection on Education Scotland's website.

Gaelic, Scots and other languages

Find out more in the languages section of this website.


Under the curriculum, all young people in Scotland have an entitlement to a senior phase of education (this is roughly from age 15 or S4 onwards).

A range of qualifications and awards are available to meet the needs and aspirations of young people to help them progress towards positive destinations beyond school, whether that be further study, work, training or employment.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) is responsible for developing and awarding qualifications, with the exception of degrees.

Scottish qualifications sit on a national framework which allocates credits. Find out more on the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework website.

National qualifications and awards

National qualifications in Scotland are called:

  • National 1 to 5
  • Higher
  • Advanced Higher
  • Scottish Baccalaureate

A range of vocational and skills related qualificatons and awards are also available. These qualifications are overseen by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

Unit assessments - reducing the over assessment burden

Units are blocks of work that are taught throughout the year where young people are assessed at each block. In September 2016, we decided to remove mandatory unit assessments from national qualifications to help reduce workload for teachers and young people.

Unit assessments have been removed from National 5 courses, with changes made to Higher from 2018 to 2019 and Advanced Higher from 2019 to 2020. Find out more about the changes to unit assessments on Education Scotland's website.