Note: Some ages vary because of the child's birth year.
In Scotland, students transfer from primary to secondary education at 12 years old. Pupils usually attend the same secondary school as their peers, as all secondaries have 'intake primaries'. Pupils attend either a Roman Catholic or non-denominational school according to their family's beliefs. Pupils in Scotland attend the same secondary school throughout their education; no sixth form colleges operate in Scotland, as in other countries in the United Kingdom.
The first and second years of secondary school (abbreviated to S1 and S2) are a continuation of the Curriculum for Excellence started in primary school, after which no set national approach is established. S3 is still considered to be with the Broad General Education (or BGE) phase. Some schools allow students to start to narrow their field of study, with exceptions for compulsory subjects such as English and Mathematics. In S4, students undertake 6–9 subjects called Nationals, and at this stage, students tend to be presented at levels 3–5. Nationals should take one year to complete. National 3 and 4 has no external exam. Some National 5 qualifications, such as Physical Education, also have no external exam. Rarely, S4 pupils take a class that could be a higher class.
After these qualifications, some students leave to gain employment or attend further education colleges; however these days most students study for Highers, of which five are usually studied. These take a year to complete, after which some students apply to university or stay on for S6, where other Highers are gained, or Advanced Highers are studied. Due to the nature of schooling in Scotland, undergraduate honours degree programmes are four years long as matriculation is normally at the completion of Highers in S5 (age 16–17), which compares with three years for the rest of the UK. As well as instruction through the English language, Gaelic medium education is also available throughout Scotland.
The vast majority of Scottish pupils take Scottish Qualifications Certificate qualifications provided by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). Until 2013/2014, most pupils took Standard Grades (but some schools offered Intermediates instead) in S3-S4, and Highers in S5. For those who wish to remain at school for the final year (S6), more Highers and Advanced Highers (formerly CSYS) in S6 could be taken. Intermediate 1 and Intermediate 2 qualifications – which were intended to be roughly equivalent to General and Credit Level Standard Grades respectively, but in practice (although they may vary from subject to subject), Intermediate 1 was easier than General, and Intermediate 2 harder than Credit – could also be taken in lieu of any of the aforementioned qualifications.