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

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.

The Benefits Of Learning Languages At Primary School

There has a been a renewed drive in recent years to see foreign languages being taught at primary school level, with ministers and educational professionals arguing for the need to expand provision. This is because learning another language at an early age is seen to bestow a wide range of benefits to young learners, in terms of their cognitive development and cultural awareness, while foreign language proficiency is seen as an increasingly valuable professional skill later in life. But with many teachers, parents and pupils apprehensive about the challenge of learning a another language so young, what are the specific benefits that have been identified by those who believe passionately in its utility?

For a start, it's a widely recognised fact that children learn languages more effectively than adults and older children, having a greater capacity to absorb new vocabulary and grammatical concepts. They're also perceived to be more receptive to language learning and possess a natural enthusiasm that older kids with entrenched habits and preferences lack. The primary school environment is also seen as uniquely suited to the process of foreign language teaching. Because primary school teachers have responsibility for a single class all year round, they are able to integrate an additional language teaching with the teaching of other subjects, helping to shape an holistic approach to language learning. While it's acknowledged that many teachers presently lack the necessary proficiency to pursue such an integrated approach, it doesn't change the fact that primary education offers a uniquely supportive environment for the young language learner.

In terms of cognitive development, learning a second language has been reported to help children inhibit the recall of irrelevant information while boosting the focus with which they approach their learning. Furthermore, some studies have suggested that laying the foundations of language learning at an early age leads to more effective learning at secondary level, meaning greater proficiency and comfort with the language. While the evidence for this effect isn't conclusive, it is true that introducing additional languages at an early age increases the child's comfort and confidence with a second language, which can help to overcome some of the apprehension experienced further down the line.

Finally, language learning is valuable for its contribution to cultural awareness. Learning another language acts as a gateway to a new culture, helping to broaden horizons and improve children's receptivity to new ideas and values. This kind of early cross-cultural understanding is an important attribute in today's globalised world. Proficiency in a foreign language is also a valuable skill that can improve job prospects in later life, meaning an early start could be exactly the right move to give children a helping hand on their path to future success.

In conclusion, it's difficult to make a case against the teaching of foreign languages in primary schools. The educational, cultural and economic benefits are such that kids will gain immeasurably from early contact with a different way of speaking. While wider provision poses some challenges, the possible gains make this a goal worth pursuing.

Hannah McCarthy works for Education City, a leading supplier of eLearning software for schools and families in the UK. Education City offers comprehensive curriculum-based primary teaching resources, which includes French, Spanish and German in its Modern Foreign Languages module.