Scotland has long taken pride in its education system, long before this current Independence referendum was even a twinkle in the Nationalists’ eyes.
When the Church of Scotland was founded in 1560 and not long after it set out to provide a school in every parish with free education for the poor.
From that beginning, Scotland has steered its own course on education, happily standing apart from the rest of the United Kingdom. After Devolution, education was one of the areas under full control of the Scottish Government in Holyrood.
So how does Scottish education currently differ from that in the rest of the UK?
Curriculum. Scotland does not have a National Curriculum as seen south of the Border. Rather than having a proscribed diet for pupils, teachers in Scotland can do their own thing as long as it meets the requirements of the Curriculum For Excellence. The Curriculum for Excellence, introduced gradually over the last 10 years, is more teaching philosophy than diktat. It aims to create “successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors”. The Scottish Government says it’s all about flexibility and trusting teachers, although some teachers say recent changes have wrought chaos.
Exams. Scotland has one examination body, the Scottish Qualifications Authority, whereas England and Wales have several. Currently, under changes brought in with Curriculum For Excellence, new exams – National Four and National Five – are being introduced. The teaching union the Educational Institute for Scotland (EiS) say their members are concerned about the implementation of the new system which will be used for the first time this year. The Scottish Governemnt responded by saying they have listened and funded more training for teachers.
Who runs schools? Ultimately control of education sits with the Scottish Government though schools are managed by local authorities. They are inspected by an agency of the Scottish Government. Opting out and academies common in England don’t exist in Scotland.
Starting age. In Scotland, children whose fifth birthdays fall between 1 March and the end of the following February will start school in August. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, children typically start school in the September following their fourth birthday.
Class sizes. In primary one (reception) classes in Scotland have 25 pupils or fewer, elsewhere classes for the same age group frequently contain more than 30 children.
Free university education. Perhaps the most significant difference is that in Scotland students do not have to pay fees for their university education. In England and Wales capped tuition fees apply to all students.
If the referendum on 18 September, 2014 decided to separate from the UK school education will not be affected significantly. The biggest issues will be the funding of university places as some commentators suggest that in an Independent Scotland the free places would have to be available to all EU students, including those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
There have been other voices of concern from universities North of the Border claiming that some of the funding for academic research would no longer be available in to an independent Scotland.
In short, independence will make little immediate difference to primary and secondary education, although it could signal an uncertain time for universities.