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Highers in Scotland, can someone explain ?

(78 Posts)
Fleurpepper Fri 06-Jan-23 13:02:30

No need for detailed information- but how does it work.

The Continental model of 16-19 education are all based on a very wide base, specialising towards humanities/languages or maths/science- but continuing all main subjects to the end. That means, maths, sciences, geo and history, their own language + 1 foreign language, PE and Art.

Whereas the English/Welsh/NI is totally different and VERY narrow, with 4 subjects for AS, and 3 only for A'levels- most of the time either all sciences/maths, or all humanities, or all art/design/IT, etc. Both the above have pros and cons.

A middle way seems to be the way ahead and the Scottish Highers seems to fit that bill.

Can anyone explain in simple terms? Please.

volver Fri 06-Jan-23 13:08:41

I did my Highers over 40 years ago, so this might not still be true!

I said on another thread today that I have 6 Highers; two sciences, two languages (one of them is Latin), English and Maths. I always thought that was a good spread of subjects.

My DH has almost the same, except instead of Latin he did History.

I'm not sure they do CSYS any more, which was the exam you took in sixth year. I have 2 sciences and 3 kinds of Maths. The Rector tried very hard to get me to drop one of the Maths subjects and take English. Didn't work!

Fleurpepper Fri 06-Jan-23 13:29:24

Thanks- would be interested in getting some info from those who have done Highers more recently, or have GCs who are.

In the Continental system, you would not be allowed to drop your own language/mother-tongue.

volver Fri 06-Jan-23 13:32:57

I'm sure that there will be someone with more up to date knowledge than me.

Interestingly, I don't believe any more that English is my mother tongue, I think its my second language. But that's a whole different thread wink

Casdon Fri 06-Jan-23 13:35:03

I don’t know where you got your information from Felupepper, but my son did the Welsh Baccalaureate at school, and that was 10 years ago?

Casdon Fri 06-Jan-23 13:35:19

Sorry, spelt your name wrong.

Fleurpepper Fri 06-Jan-23 13:44:27

Yes, Casdon, it is not an option in some English/Welsh schools- but not the norm. The Baccalaureate offered in England, etc, is very different to the Continental one, actually.

AGAA4 Fri 06-Jan-23 13:48:36

My DD went to Edinburgh University after doing A levels in Wales. It was a 4 year course and the first year was spent studying things she had already studied at A level. Maybe A levels are more intensive than highers?

Fleurpepper Fri 06-Jan-23 13:53:11

Well of course, as the number fo subjects studied is much smaller.

volver Fri 06-Jan-23 13:53:28

A-levels are at a different level from Highers, they are more advanced.

AGAA4 Fri 06-Jan-23 14:03:22

It does mean a lengthier time at university but my DD didn't complain.She loved her 4 years at Edinburgh and met her DH there.

Oldbat1 Fri 06-Jan-23 14:05:44

Won’t say how many years ago I did my highest. There used to be only one exam board in those days in Scotland. I would do a search on line to find out more up to date information exactly what highest involve nowadays.

Oldbat1 Fri 06-Jan-23 14:06:17

Should read highers not highest!!!!

Casdon Fri 06-Jan-23 14:06:18


My DD went to Edinburgh University after doing A levels in Wales. It was a 4 year course and the first year was spent studying things she had already studied at A level. Maybe A levels are more intensive than highers?

At my son’s state school the baccalaureat is studied alongside GCSEs and A levels, it isn’t an either/or. What exactly do you suggest British pupils are missing out on Fleurpepper, and what that is covered in the Welsh Baccalaureat do you think is inferior to the Continental one?

The value of UK degrees is still very high in world terms, so our schools are doing something right.

Fleurpepper Fri 06-Jan-23 14:14:28

My GC has just started in the 6th Form, and he had to choose between A'Levels and Baccalaureat format. So was basing my comment on that.

You are totally misreading my post- I never said one system was inferior to the other- I said both systems have pros and cons.

UK Degrees are indeed respected- partly because specialism comes much earlier. As said in European model- all subjects are studied to the Baccalaureat, so of course with less depth in a few (4 then 3 subjects).

The form of the Baccalaureat offered in the UK does not continue with all subjects as with the Continental model. I never ever said one or the other was 'inferior'.

It is a subject that has fascinated me for over 40 years btw. But I know very little about the Scottish Highers system- hence my question. Perhaps the form of Baccalaureat offered in England and Wales is similar to the Highers, eg a half way route.

BTW I have taught GCSEs (and previously O'Levels) and AS/A Levels all my career, so I am very aware of the pros and cons.

Caleo Fri 06-Jan-23 14:29:29

Fleurpepper, is your question about how do they compare academic levels, or do they compare academic levels? If the latter, then they do compare academic equivalent levels.

Universities need to set academic standards for entry and they do. This includes the OU. When I applied to the OU they accepted my initial teacher training as an academic credit, but refused my State Registered Nurse qualification.

Grandmabatty Fri 06-Jan-23 14:32:43

CSYS is now known as Advanced Highers. Most pupils in Scotland will attempt up to 5 Highers in S5. Some will attempt a combination of Nat 5 and Highers. The aim is to have a broader range of subjects. In S6 pupils will attempt up to 3 Advanced Highers. They will usually pick subjects where they got A at Higher. The focus is very much on critical thinking, independent learning and grouplearning.

Grandmabatty Fri 06-Jan-23 14:34:36

There are pupils who will sit a combination of Nat 5 and other courses, if the Highers route is not for them. The school where I taught found this engaged these pupils more.

Fleurpepper Fri 06-Jan-23 14:40:12

Thank you Grandmatty.

What do you mean by S5 and S6 - do you know which years that compares to in English system?

SueDonim Fri 06-Jan-23 14:41:27

My children all did Highers in S5 then SYS (Sixth Year Studies) in S6. My youngest has six Highers and two SYS. I can’t remember what the others got, it’s too long ago. grin

It does give a broad spread of subjects, allowing STEM and Arts & Humanities to be studied. In SYS you can sometimes take an entirely new subject as a ‘crash’ course, as well.

The situation has changed however, since the Curriculum for Excellence and the ‘Nationals’ came in to replace Standard Grades (S4) In some schools choices have been reduced from seven or eight topics down to five at that stage, which limits subjects at the young age of 14. The results haven’t been good, with the Scottish system slipping down the world rankings and the attainment gap not reducing. It’s a great shame, because the previous system was held in high regard and I know some parents have been very unhappy with it.

Looking at university, some young people went to Scottish Universities after S5 ie at 17yo hence the four year course. English students could go straight into 2nd year if they had the appropriate A Levels. I don’t think 17yos go to uni now, at least I haven’t heard of it for many years, though it happened when my boys were at that stage.

Fleurpepper Fri 06-Jan-23 14:44:09

In the Continental system, students continue all subjects to Baccalaureat. You can specialise in one direction or another, but even then, all subjects have to be continued to the end. They also have a much fuller timetable than English AS/A Level students, accordingly. So yes, less early specialisation. If one main subject is failed - the whole year has to be retaken, and all subjects have to be retaken again. If you fail twice, you have to leave and opt out, perhaps for apprenticeship. Once apprenticeship finished, there are routes to return towards University entrance.

Fleurpepper Fri 06-Jan-23 14:45:08

Thanks SueDonim, posts crossed, Very interesting.

Fleurpepper Fri 06-Jan-23 14:46:28

I certainly could write a book about pros and cons of both systems, A'Levels versus Continental form of Baccalaureat- but it is not the subject of this thread.

I am just trying to understand the Scottish Highers system- of which I have NO experience whatsoever.

Grandmabatty Fri 06-Jan-23 15:22:09

Suedonim I have never heard of a pupil taking a crash Advanced Higher. My son did a crash higher Latin but that was nearly twenty years ago. Fleur S5 and S6 are the last two years of secondary school in Scotland. I'm not familiar with the equivalent in England.

Callistemon21 Fri 06-Jan-23 15:22:29


I don’t know where you got your information from Felupepper, but my son did the Welsh Baccalaureate at school, and that was 10 years ago?

I did post about the Welsh Baccalaureate on the other thread in response to your question, Fleurpepper but you must have missed it.

Did I put a link (I'll try to find it).