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Exam time is nerve-wracking for any school pupil and independent school exams are no different. With a wider range of exams on offer, the exam curriculum at an independent school can feel daunting at glance… 

However, there is nothing to fear – the objective of the varied exam curriculum in the independent sector is simply to allow for more options that will suit your child’s individual strengths and abilities. When considering which school to apply for in Scotland, you can choose from three different curriculum and qualifications for your child – SQAs, A-Levels or the International Baccalaureate (IB).  

In this blog, we will explain the mix of qualifications and curriculum exams that are available at independent schools and the benefits that they can offer to your child. 


Curriculum exams  

All exam routes lead to internationally recognised qualifications that equip students for university and life beyond school. 

Schools have the flexibility to mix different qualifications from the three different exam boards - SQA, A levels and IB. Most boarding schools in Scotland offer the English curriculum – GCSE and A levels, while some follow the Scottish curriculum – Higher and Advanced Higher, and others offer the IB. 

You can use our find a school tool for a list of all of Scotland’s independent schools. 


Choosing the right curriculum for your child  

SQA exams (National 5, Highers and Advanced Highers) are one of the most important types of qualifications in Scotland. They were set up to give a good breadth of study before specialising. Pupils will generally sit five Highers in their second-last year of school and three Advanced Highers in their final year.   
On the other hand, children who study GCSE’s and A-Levels under the English system will focus on three subjects only for A-Levels. This system is designed to develop in-depth expertise in each area. 
The International Baccalaureate (IB) is an academically challenging programme of education that takes a holistic approach to developing the young learner, and is designed to meet students’ intellectual, social and emotional needsThe International Baccalaureate is currently offered by two of Scotland’s boarding schools – Fettes College in Edinburgh and St Leonards School in St Andrews.  

The exam process for each will vary, however, we advise that you make your decision based on the curriculum that best suits your child’s abilities and learning style. Different schools will offer different qualifications and curriculums, so make sure to take that into consideration when making your decision.  


Setting up for success  

The range of curriculum exams are not designed to be foreboding, they are there for schools to better cater to your child’s abilities and to give you more freedom in your child’s journey through university and into adult life. 

Whichever exam route you choose for your child, over 90% of independent school students pass their exams and go on to university. This is largely due to the high level of quality support that dedicated teachers are able to offer pupils at independent schools, by taking the time to get to know each pupil to develop their interests, skills and confidence.  


Independent school exams are nothing to fear and gaining an understanding of them will put your mind at rest. When choosing a school, be sure to research the various curriculums to understand which exams and qualifications your child will best benefit from.  


If you are considering sending your child to a Scottish Independent School, SCIS can help you with your search – use our find a school tool or get in touch with us today.