Education choices from 5 to 16

This advice applies to Scotland. See advice for See advice for England, See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Wales

The right to education

Every child has a right to a free place at school. Parents are legally responsible for ensuring that their children are educated and normally fulfil this duty by sending their child to school. Some parents choose to fulfil this duty by other means, such as education at home.

Children normally start school in the August when they are aged between four-and-a-half and five-and-a-half, and transfer to secondary school in the August when they are between eleven-and-a-half and twelve-and-a-half. All children must complete at least four years of secondary education. The majority of young people stay on to complete a fifth and sixth year at secondary school.

An education authority has a duty to provide full-time education for children aged 5 to 16. The duty of the local education authority to provide full-time education also applies to a child who is temporarily living in the area and whose parents choose a school education, for example:

  • the child of a Gypsy/Traveller or a child whose parent is a member of the armed services, or

  • a child who has come from abroad including children of refugees and asylum-seekers, and unaccompanied children, or

  • a child who has additional support needs.

If you are living temporarily in the area, you should consult the education authority - the address and telephone number will be listed in the local telephone directory.

Choosing a school

As a parent, you have a right to request a place at a school other than your local catchment area school and education authorities have a duty to meet such requests if there is space at the requested school. However, the local authority does not have to grant your request if the school is oversubscribed.

Usually, parents make a choice about which school a child should go to when the child is starting primary or secondary school. However, you can ask the local authority or school for a place for your child at a different school at any time. You may also choose to have your child educated in an independent school or out of school.

If a placing request is turned down, you have a right to appeal, see under What you can do if your choice of school is refused.

Read more information about choosing a school and your rights on the Scottish government website.

Primary schools

Choosing the primary school in the catchment area

Children living within a catchment area are normally provided with a place at the school serving that area. If you are happy to send your child to the school, you usually only need to enrol him or her on the advertised date. Some councils ask parents to let them know if their children will be attending the school designated by them, or to enrol by a certain date.

Find out more about catchment areas and how to enrol your child by contacting your local council. You can find your local council on

Making a placing request to go to a primary school out of the catchment area

If you want your child to go to another school you will need to make a placing request to your education authority. Each local authority sets its own priorities for dealing with placement requests. For example, it may give priority to placement requests where:

  • your workplace is near the school, or

  • your childcare is near the school, or

  • the child already has a sibling at the school, or

  • the child has attended the school's nursery, or

  • there is some other good reason for the child to attend that school rather than their catchment area school.

Although you have a right to make a placing request, the local authority does not have to agree to it. Very often, schools are oversubscribed and it is not possible to get a place. If your child does not get a place initially, the education authority will usually put your child on a waiting list and they may still get a place before the school starting date.

You can find more information about specific schools in Parentzone on the Education Scotland website at or check your local authority's website for information in your area.

Secondary schools

In the year before your child moves up to secondary school, the local authority will write and inform you that your child has a place in your catchment area school, and that you can make a placing request if you wish your child to go to a different school. It will also inform you of the processes for doing so. You must make your placing request in writing. You can appeal against the decision if the council refuses your request, see under What you can do if your choice of school is refused.

Schools in the area

When considering which school would be best for your child, you can find out about local schools by contacting the local education authority or individual schools.

Contacting the local education authority or individual schools

All primary and secondary schools produce an annual handbook that gives information about the school which includes:

  • what it teaches

  • its achievements

  • the results of tests and examinations

  • term times, holiday dates and school hours

  • the school’s policy on charging for extra curricular activities

For information about financial help, see Help with school costs.

  • its policies on discipline, school uniform, homework and additional support needs

  • a policy statement on developing pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural values

  • the school's equal opportunities policy.

You can find more information about specific schools in Parentzone on the Education Scotland website or check your local authority's website for information in your area.

Financial help

You may wish to send your child to a particular school but be concerned about the financial costs. Help with some of the costs, for example, school transport or school meals may be available.

For information about what help is available, see Help with school costs.

Some independent schools offer scholarships to help parents pay the fees at the school. If you are interested in applying for a scholarship, you should contact the school concerned.

Education at home

When you decide to educate your child at home you are expected to provide an education that is suitable to the child's age, ability and aptitude.

Scottish government guidelines states that the education authority should be in touch with you at least once a year to see how you are getting on. If it has some evidence that your child is not being properly educated it can issue an attendance order.

If your child already attends a state school you can choose to start providing an education from home but you have to get the consent of the local authority to withdraw the child from school. If your child has not attended a state school you do not have to seek consent from the local authority to educate your child at home.

If you have a child with additional support needs you can ask the local authority to do an assessment of needs to find out if extra services might be available for home schooling. The local authority does not have to do the assessment.

There is help available from a number of organisations who specialise in providing support and advice for educating your child at home.

There is more information about home schooling on website including organisations that can provide help and support.

Specific considerations

Children with additional support needs

Children and young people are defined as having additional support for a wide variety of reasons. These include, for example:

  • not being able to manage the lessons

  • problems with accessing the curriculum (for example, have a visual or hearing impairment)

  • problems with physical access

  • bullying

  • family circumstances

  • language problems.

A pupil with additional support needs has a right to full-time education appropriate to their needs. This should normally be in a mainstream school which is expected to make adjustments for pupils with additional support needs. This may take the form of adjustments to the building or support from a classroom assistant or visiting teacher. However, it may be in a special school appropriate to their needs. This applies to children and young people between the ages of 2 and 19.

A child with additional support needs might also be educated at home. See under Education at home.

Coordinated support plan

If you think that your child may have additional support needs, you can ask your education authority to make an assessment of their educational needs. A young person aged 16 or over can ask for an assessment themselves and in some cases, a child aged 12 to 15 can ask for an assessment. The education authority can then make a Coordinated Support Plan stating the nature of your child's additional support needs and the type of support they require. You can then decide which school would be most suitable for your child based on their needs. This may be a mainstream school or a special school for children with particular types of additional support needs. You can use the Coordinated Support Plan to ask the school to provide what your child needs for their education.

For more information on additional support for learning see the parents' guide to additional support for learning on the Enquire website.

Children with a disability

Schools must not treat children with a disability less favourably than children who are not disabled. This applies to both pupils and prospective pupils.

For more information on disability discrimination see disability discrimination.

Decisions about subject choices

Skills Development Scotland has a website with a lot of information for parents and carers about helping children to make choices about courses at school and making decisions about what to do after leaving school. It is on the Skills Development Scotland My World of Work website. There is also helpful information for young people about career options on this website.

What you can do if your choice of school is refused

A school or local education authority can refuse to accept a parent's choice. If this does happen, you can take informal action by talking to the local education authority or school or formal action by appealing against the decision.

Informal action

You could contact the local education authority (or governing body for independent schools) to talk informally about changing the decision. This may avoid using the formal appeals procedure and might resolve the matter more quickly. For children who are starting school at 5 or changing to secondary school, most local education authorities and schools will have worked out a timetable which allows for a period of informal discussion with dissatisfied parents.

Formal action

If after discussion and negotiation, the local education authority or school still refuses to accept your choice of school and you find the alternative that is being offered unacceptable, you have a right to refer this decision to an independent appeal committee set up by the authority. If the appeal committee confirms the authority's decision to refuse the request, you can refer the case to the sheriff for your area.

If a parent wishes to appeal against a decision by a school or local education authority they should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.