Curriculum choices

Boarding schools offer a variety of curriculum choices to provide students with a well-rounded and enriching educational experience. These schools often strive to offer a comprehensive curriculum that balances academic excellence, personal development, and extracurricular opportunities.

The below curriculum choices aim to provide students with a strong academic foundation, foster critical thinking, promote creativity, and support the holistic development of students’ talents and interests.

A levels

A levels remain the default route through sixth form. Recent government reforms have seen coursework largely stripped out so that now most marks are awarded in examinations during May and June of Year 13. Schools expect students to take three or four A-level subjects. The AS qualification that has existed for the last 20 years as a modular exam taken in Year 12 has been devalued by the reforms – many schools have responded by dropping the AS papers altogether although others continue to use them as a mid-sixth-form marker point. Universities are largely indifferent to whether they have been taken or not. A levels are often taken with an additional Extended Project Qualification, a piece of personalised research that helps demonstrate a student has independent research skills and interests. 

Students put together their A-level programme (and the accompanying extra-curricular programme) themselves with each subject being a discrete building block. For example, a prospective doctor may opt for chemistry, biology and maths, but a small number might take music rather than maths. There is a logic to opting for mostly sciences, or mostly essay subjects, though a little more variety could also reasonably be sought. Maths often operates as a supporting subject – taken by scientists and social scientists alike. A levels suit pupils who know what they want to do in future and which subjects they are keen to drop post-GCSEs. 


GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education) are a set of qualifications typically taken by students in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland at the age of 15 to 16, usually after completing their compulsory education at the end of Key Stage 4. GCSEs are important qualifications that assess students’ knowledge and skills across a range of subjects.


IGCSEs (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) are the international equivalent of GCSEs. They are offered by various examination boards and are widely recognized by schools and universities worldwide. IGCSEs follow a similar curriculum to GCSEs but are specifically designed for international students or students studying outside the UK.

Scottish Curriculum for Excellence (CEF)

The Scottish Curriculum for Excellence is the national curriculum followed in Scotland. It offers a broad and balanced education for students in secondary boarding schools. The curriculum includes core subjects such as Mathematics, English Language and Literature, Sciences (Physics, Chemistry, Biology), Social Studies (History, Geography, Modern Studies), Modern Languages, Physical Education, and Religious and Moral Education. Additionally, there are various elective subjects available, including Business Studies, Computing Science, Art and Design, Drama, Music, and more. The CfE focuses on interdisciplinary learning, active engagement, and developing skills for lifelong learning.

International Baccalaureate (IB)

The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (DP) is a popular choice in many secondary boarding schools in Scotland. It offers a comprehensive and internationally recognised curriculum. The DP includes six subject groups: Language and Literature, Language Acquisition, Individuals and Societies, Sciences, Mathematics, and Arts. Students also engage in the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course, complete an Extended Essay, and participate in Creativity, Activity, and Service (CAS) activities. The IB curriculum emphasises critical thinking, intercultural understanding, and a global perspective.

Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers

Scottish boarding schools often offer the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) courses, which include Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers. Highers are typically studied in the fifth year of secondary education, and Advanced Highers are taken in the sixth year. Students can choose from a wide range of subjects, including Mathematics, English, Sciences (Physics, Chemistry, Biology), Social Sciences (History, Geography, Modern Studies), Modern Languages, Business, Art and Design, and more. These qualifications are widely recognised by Scottish universities and can provide a pathway to higher education.

Cambridge International Examinations (CIE)

Many boarding schools in Scotland offer the Cambridge curriculum, particularly the Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) and the Cambridge Advanced (A Level) programs. The IGCSE curriculum covers a variety of subjects, including English, Mathematics, Sciences, Humanities, Languages, Business Studies, and more. The A Level program allows students to specialise in their chosen subjects and prepares them for university-level studies.