The reputation for quality, breadth and reliability has become part of the national character since the first universities were founded almost 600 years ago.
But this guide is not about the past. That legacy provides a firm foundation for future growth. At a time of rapid change, the establishment of a Scottish Parliament in 1999 brings a clear focus to developments planned for education in pre-school nurseries, schools, colleges and universities.
Unique to Scotland but international in scope and outlook, the Scottish education system is continually adjusting to meet the needs of a changing world without sacrificing the integrity and flexibility which has produced a characteristically creative, resilient and pragmatic people.
Describes the distinct stages of the education system.
Describes the delivery of the system and introduces the organisations which support, maintain and enhance the system.
Education for all is a fundamental principle of the Scottish education system. It underlines the provision of free compulsory schooling for children aged 5 to 16 and drives new educational developments planned for pre-school children, students and adult learners.
Such diversity presents challenges. In Scotland 70 per cent of the population lives in the relatively narrow 'central belt' between Glasgow and Edinburgh but demands for learning are just as strong in smaller communities scattered hundreds of miles away. Yet challenges also create opportunities. Islands schools encounter a wider world through lessons on the Internet and there are plans for a 'Virtual University' of the Highlands and Islands.
By devolving powers and increasing choice, successive Education (Scotland) Acts up to 1996 have encouraged partnership between central and local government, parents and the business community. Freedom of choice allows parents to send children to independent schools but most children attend comprehensive, co-educational schools free of charge.
Each sector is connected with others. There are strengthening 'bridges' between nursery and primary schools. National curriculum guidelines reinforce links between primary and secondary schools. A more flexible national qualification system introduces new connections between secondary schools, further education colleges and universities. A transferable credit system (Credit and Qualifications Framework) makes it possible to move between institutions. There are increasing opportunities for adults to continue their own education at any stage.
Creative but always pragmatic, the broad education long regarded as characteristic of Scotland has new significance at the turn of the 21st century. People must acquire flexible skills adapted to future change.
The government, industry, parents and students each have a part to play.
Scottish education is a partnership between the government and other organisations. The Scottish Executive guides the system and oversees funding of further and higher education.
But these institutions undertake their own administration while many of the responsibilities of financing and running schools are delegated to the 32 local authorities and to schools themselves.
Statutory teacher training, national examinations, school inspections and quality assurance systems for further and higher education ensure the quality of Scotland's education. Rigorous standards for schools, colleges and universities are set, maintained and advanced by independent professional bodies working with the Executive. (More about the role of specialist agencies in Part Two).
All school teachers must be qualified and registered Examinations and qualifications are nationally accredited All schools and colleges are open to Her Majesty's Inspectors employed by the Executive
By law, parents have the right to send children to a school of their choice and the responsibility to see their children are educated. Parents are also encouraged to take an active part in education from pre-school onwards. School Boards give parents the opportunity to influence the running of primary and secondary schools. Working with headteacher, staff and community members, elected parent representatives can express views, seek information and help appoint headteachers.
Business plays an increasingly important role in education from the first nursery outings when pre-school children explore the world around them. Contact with local businesses gives older children a practical experience of working life. In return, the business gains contact with potential customers or employees and can contribute to the development of skills and motivation of the future workforce.