Arc of Prosperity

Scottish Independence within the EU – with a Scandinavian Slant


Normalising the Scottish education system

glasgow university students photo
Photo by jisc_infonet
Scots are generally proud of the Scottish education system, and with some reason. It is not, however, in a different league compared to England, and we don’t tend to see Scotland coming top of international rankings.

My gut feeling is that Scotland looks too much at England and too little at other countries, such as our Scandinavian neighbours. And from an international/Nordic perspective, the Scottish education system is weird in many respects. For instance:

  • It’s weird to start school at 4. Danish kids start their induction year (Primary 0, as they call it) when they’re between 5½ and 6½, and proper school the year after.
  • It’s weird that Scottish students start uni before they’re 18 (and this can create problems if they want to study abroad where unis assume students are adults, and it can make it difficult to do a gap year before uni, although this is probably the most normal time to do this in other countries).
  • It’s weird that the last year of high school (S6) isn’t obligatory, which means that some students start uni when they’re 16 years old. This also makes it hard to make nice high school graduation ceremonies, because the students leave at different times.
  • It’s weird to apply to uni before knowing the exam results (and asking teachers for predicted grades is positively barking mad).

All of the above could be fixed relatively:

  • Start school six months later (i.e., at age 5–6 rather than 4½–5½). This could be phased in over three or six years.
  • Make S6 obligatory for university admission.
  • Create a new school leaving exam that is based on results from S5 and S6.
  • Make sure that all exam results are in by the end of June, and have a huge graduation ceremony after that.
  • Move the deadline for uni applications till early July.

Some of these changes would make the Scottish education system rather different from England’s, but in an international context it would normalise it.

2 thoughts on “Normalising the Scottish education system

  • Nice ideas, and always good to see that our “normal” is not what other countries count as normal. When I lived and taught in university in Norway, I too was struck by the maturity of the Norwegian undergrads. I had to adopt a different, adult teaching approach compared to the school style that tends to happen in UK. Many Norwegian students also had a forced “gap year” in the form of national service, though this was often postponed – never cancelled – by their commitment to an undergraduate course.

    I wonder if some of the accelerated timing of school and university in UK is caused by a social need to earn quickly, whether as a cultural or proefessional norm, or as a need to repay debt. In UK a popular view is that students are wasters and need to be turned to work as soon as the fun of university is over; this is not the belief in Norway. The Norwegian students I met were under no pressure to get a job during or even immediately after uni, older though they were, and of course they were all completely supported by the state, as we were once in UK.

    Finally, some of the ideas for timing admissions will be difficult while the Scottish Universities cater equally to students from all over UK. This equal treatment is right and proper in my view, I hasten to add, but two separate admissions timetables will confuse and burden admissions teams. There is a danger some universities, even in Scotland, then insist the Scots fit the English timetable for reasons of simplicity and inertia (my experience is that it seldom goes the other way – in bed with an elephant, and all that).

    • Interesting comments, thanks! Yes, I agree with the maturity thing, and I think Scotland would do well to move towards the Norwegian approach in that regard.

      And yes, I agree that England will probably have something to say if Scotland makes it harder for English students to go to uni up here. But on the other hand, while we are in the Internal Market we’re supposed to provide equal access for all EU/EEA students, too.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *