Education glossary


This glossary explains educational terms used on Parentzone Scotland. Clicking on highlighted words within the 'Find a school' section of the website will cause the associated glossary entry to open.

Activity agreement

An agreement between a young person and a professional acting in an advisory and guidance role. The young person takes part in a programme of learning and activity that helps them become ready for formal learning or employment.

You can find more information on activity agreements on the YouthLink Scotland website.

Advanced Higher Advanced Highers are National Qualifications that consist of units and a course assessment. They involve a question paper (exam) or coursework (eg assignments and/or practical activities) or both. They are graded A to D or 'no award'.
A level A (advanced) levels are taken in some schools in Scotland, particularly independent schools. A levels are two-year study courses and, in most cases, pupils should have passed a General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) or an equivalent Scottish qualification in the subject they wish to take at A level.
Attainment Attainment is the measurable progress which children and young people make as they advance through and beyond school, and the development of the range of skills, knowledge and attributes needed to succeed in learning, life and work.
Attainment gap The Scottish education system works well for most children and young people, who make good progress in their learning. However, there is still a gap between the progress which is made between those living in Scotland’s most and least deprived areas. Many children and young people living in our most deprived communities, do significantly worse at all levels of the education system than those from our least deprived communities. This is often referred to as the ‘attainment gap’.
Big books Large books that are for shared, guided or independent reading.
Breadth and depth of awards

The Insight measure for breadth and depth, known on Parentzone Scotland as 'awards gained by level' refers to the range of qualifications taken and the level at which they are achieved.

Find information on breadth and depth, two of the seven principles of design for Curriculum for Excellence.

Care plan A plan that will help all staff working with children to meet the needs of a child or young person.
The Curriculum (QI) This quality indicator relates to how well the curriculum supports children and young people to make progress in key aspects of their learning and development. It also focuses on the quality of the curriculum across stages and at key transition stages.
Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) Often shortened to CfE, Curriculum for Excellence is the curriculum in Scotland for all children and young people aged 3-18.
Co-operative groups Children work together to help one another learn, complete tasks, take turns and share.

Datazones are small geographical areas of Scotland. They have an average population of between 500 and 1,000 residents and contain households with similar social characteristics. They sit within local authority boundaries and, where possible, respect physical boundaries and natural communities.

The Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) identifies the concentration of deprivation within each datazone. Datazones may be grouped according to concentration of deprivation.

See also Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation.


Not having something that a person needs or people need. There are many different types of deprivation and people can experience more than one type of deprivation at a time.

The Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation considers deprivation by looking at income, employment, health, education, housing, access to services and levels of crime in an area.

Depth (of learning) Experiences are planned and organised to offer opportunities to extend skills and understanding.
Eco-Schools Scotland

The Eco-Schools programme is an international initiative designed to encourage whole school action for the environment. It is a recognised award scheme that accredits early learning and childcare settings and schools that make a commitment to continuously improve their environmental performance. It is also a learning resource that raises awareness of environmental and sustainable development issues throughout activities linked to curriculum areas.

The aim of the Eco-Schools programme is to make environmental awareness and action a central part of the life and ethos of the school for both pupils and staff, and to engage the wider community.

Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) Early learning and childcare encompasses all previous terminology related to pre-school provision and early education. It refers to different types of provision which care for and educate young children. It includes nursery schools and classes, family and pre-5 centres, community nurseries, playgroups and childminders. The term was introduced in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act (2014).
Enterprising (approaches to learning) These encourage all children and young people to learn and develop in ways that meet their needs and develop skills for learning, skills for life and skills for work.
Free school meals In accordance with Scottish Government legislation, pupils from low-income families are entitled to free school meals. In addition, children using funded early learning and childcare and in primaries 1-3 are also entitled to free school meals.
Full-time equivalent (FTE) Full-time equivalent is used to describe the amount of a resource available. The number of teachers in a school may be expressed as 45.5 FTE and may be made up by 44 full time teachers and 3 teachers who work for half a week. FTE can also be used to describe the places available in an early learning and childcare setting. A 40 FTE setting may, for example, take 20 children attending full-time and another 40 attending for half of the week each.
Gaelic Medium Education The purpose of Gaelic Medium Education (GME) is to educate children through the use of the Gaelic language.
Gaelic medium provision

Gaelic medium education can be delivered in free-standing provision known as Gaelic schools or Gaelic medium schools. In other cases, Gaelic medium education and English medium education take place in the same school.

Grant-aided Grant-aided schools are schools that are independent of local authorities and are supported financially by the Scottish Government. Often these schools provide education for children and young people with additional support needs.
Health and wellbeing In this curriculum area, children and young people will learn about: mental, emotional, social and physical wellbeing; planning for choices and changes; physical education, physical activity and sport; food and health; substance misuse; relationships; and sexual health and parenthood.
Higher Highers are National Qualifications and are usually taken in the fifth and sixth years of secondary school education at about age 16 to 18. The awards are graded A to D by performance.
Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Computers, games consoles, digital/video cameras, programmable toys and phone technology.
Independent school An independent school is a school that is not under the management of an education authority, that is not grant-aided and that provides full-time education for at least five pupils of school age. Member schools are registered with the Scottish Government Education Department and are subject to inspection by Her Majesty's Inspectors. The Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS) promotes and supports the contribution made by independent schools to education in Scotland. Details of schools in the rest of the UK are available on the Independent Schools Council website.

Insight is an online tool for secondary schools and local authorities. It is aligned with Curriculum for Excellence.

Insight is a professional tool, aimed at teachers and other staff. It is used to help secondary schools and local authorities identify areas of success and where improvements can be made for pupils in the senior phase (S4 - S6). Its key focus is on detailed information about the attainment and destinations of school leavers. It also provides detailed information about the attainment of young people as they move through the senior phase. Much of the attainment information is based on pupils’ best awards in each subject. This means that, for example, if someone has a National 5 and a Higher in Mathematics, it is the Higher award which is counted.

Insight does not include data relating to attainment in S1 - S3.

Although Insight provides data on the attainment of a wide range of Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) awards from a range of providers, not all SCQF achievement awards are included.

Find further information on Insight on the Scottish Government website.

Integrated community school An integrated community school encourages closer and better joint working among education, health and social work agencies and professionals, greater pupil and parental involvement in schools, and improved support and service provision for vulnerable children and young people.
Integrated special unit An integrated special unit caters for children and young people in mainstream education who, because of their additional support needs, at times require individualised or small group specialist teaching.
Leader of Learning A member of staff who has key responsibility for developing an aspect of learning, teaching or an area of the curriculum.
Lead Officer Education Scotland officer who has key responsibility for managing an aspect of the inspection programme.
Learning folders/
Learning journey/
Learning story
Schools and early learning and childcare settings use documents referred to as learning folders, learning journeys or learning stories to show how children progress in their learning and skills development. These may consist of written or recorded observations of children's learning, photographs, and examples of children's work.

The ability to communicate by reading, writing, and listening and talking.

  • Reading - The ability to understand and interpret ideas, opinions and information presented in texts. It includes handling information to make reasoned and informed decisions.

  • Writing - The ability to create texts which communicate ideas, opinions and information, to meet a purpose and within a context.

  • Listening and talking - Listening is the ability to understand and interpret spoken ideas, opinions and information for a purpose and within a context, drawing on non-verbal communication (body language and facial expressions) as appropriate. Talking means the ability to communicate orally ideas, opinions and information for a purpose and within a context.

    Further information on awards that contribute to the literacy and numeracy measure presented on Parentzone Scotland.

Mark-making An early stage in the process of learning to write and draw.
Mind mapping A diagram used to visually organise information, thoughts or ideas. It may use words and/or pictures. Often used in education by and with children, to plan and evaluate learning.
Moderation/ Moderating progress Helps raise standards, expectations and consistency of learning and progress in schools.
Monitoring (of practice) When a member of staff observes teaching and learning to support quality assurance and improvement.
Natural play materials A range of materials that come from nature. These can be collected from outdoors. Examples could include leaves, wood, shells…..
National Qualifications (NQs) Scotland's system of National Qualifications (NQs), which is managed by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), ensures that learners receive recognised awards for their achievements. National Qualifications include national units, national courses (National 2 to National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher) and Scottish Group Awards.

The ability to use numbers in order to solve problems by counting, doing calculations, measuring, and understanding graphs and charts, and results.

  • Number processes means solving problems that can happen in everyday life through: carrying out calculations involving addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division; using whole numbers, fractions, decimal fractions and percentages; making informed decisions based on the results of these calculations; understanding these results.

  • Money, time and measurement means using and understanding money, time and measurement to solve practical problems in a variety of situations, using relevant units and suitable instruments, with appropriate accuracy.

  • Information handling means being able to interpret information in tables, charts and other graphs to come to sensible conclusions. It involves interpreting the data and considering its reliability in making reasoned deductions and informed decisions. It also involves an awareness and understanding of the chance of events happening.

  • Further information on awards that contribute to the literacy and numeracy measure presented on Parentzone Scotland.

Outcomes Curriculum for Excellence includes experiences and outcomes for each curricular area. The outcome describes what children can achieve in the eight areas of the curriculum.
Parent Refers to the mother or father of a child or young person, or to any foster carer, relative or friend who has been given responsibility for looking after or bringing up a child, for example through a supervision order.
Planning books A planning book is a large notebook where staff and children plan what they want to learn and record their learning.
Positive destination

Information is collected by Skills Development Scotland on what young people do when they leave school. This information is referred to as school leaver destinations.

Scottish education aims to support all young people to have a 'positive destination' when they leave school. Positive destinations include: higher education, further education, training, voluntary work, employment, activity agreements.

This Scottish Government statistics publication has further information on school leaver destinations.

Primary Children in Scotland usually go to school when they are between four-and-a-half and five-and-a-half years old. They spend seven years at primary school (P1-P7) before going on to secondary school around the age of 12 years old. Primary schools are organised in classes, by age, with a mix of boys and girls and children of all abilities. Each class is the responsibility of a class teacher, who will teach most or all of the curriculum, often with some support from specialist visiting teachers.
Pupil and teacher numbers Numbers displayed relate to the beginning of the academic term for which exam attainment statistics are published and, therefore, do not necessarily reflect a school's current complement.
Pupil Census The pupil census is collected from local authorities annually in September. It collects information on pupils attending local authority and grant-aided mainstream schools in Scotland.
Quality Indicators (QI) Used by early learning and childcare settings, schools, Local Authorities and HM inspectors to consider what is going well and what needs to be improved.
School leaver

A young person of school leaving age who left school (from S4, S5 or S6) during or at the end of the school year.

School leavers are recorded against the school at which they were present in the pupil census in September. Young people who move to another school or outwith Scotland are not included.

The positive leaver destination measure on Parentzone Scotland uses data from Insight about school leavers, which is collected by Skills Development Scotland. Details about a leaver's destination are only included in the measure if a link can be made between the leaver's Skills Development Scotland destination record and a Pupil Census record with stage S4, S5 or S6 for the same academic year. In addition, the young person must not have a Pupil Census record in the following academic year in a senior phase stage (S4-S6).

​Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)

​STEM stands for science (biology, chemistry and physics), technologies (includes digital and computing science), engineering (all types) and mathematics.

As well as developing skills and knowledge in each individual subject, STEM related education and training aims to develop young people's ability to work across disciplines through inter-disciplinary or project-based learning.

This relates to how STEM skills and knowledge are used in the world of work where a team with various expertise would work together to generate new knowledge, ideas and products.

Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF)

The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework is Scotland's national qualifications framework. The SCQF supports lifelong learning and can: help people of all ages and circumstances to access appropriate education and training over their lifetime; and help employers, learners and the general public to understand the full range of Scottish qualifications, how they relate to each other and to other forms of learning, and how different types of qualification can contribute to improving the skills of the workforce.

The SCQF has 12 levels which indicate the level of difficulty of a qualification. SCQF levels allow broad comparisons to be made between qualifications and learning. Examples of some of the SCQF level qualifications are:

  • SCQF Level 3 - National 3
  • SCQF Level 5 - National 5, Modern Apprenticeship and Scottish Vocational Qualification (SVQ) 2
  • SCQF Level 7 – Advanced Higher, Higher National Certificate (HNC) and Scottish Baccalaureates.

More information can be found on the SCQF website.

Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD)

The Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation identifies small area concentrations of multiple deprivation across all of Scotland in a consistent way. It allows policies and funding to be put in place to tackle issues associated with multiple deprivation.

Small geographical areas called datazones are ordered by the concentration of multiple deprivation. This is based on an assessment of income, employment, health, education, housing, access to services and levels of crime in the area.

Find out more about the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation.

Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) develops, assesses and awards qualifications taken in workplaces, colleges and schools. The SQA provides qualifications across Scotland, the United Kingdom and internationally.
Secondary Children in Scotland usually go to secondary school when they are between 11-and-a-half and 12-and-a-half years old, having completed seven years at primary school.
SEED number A unique seven-digit number assigned by the Government to every Scottish school.
Senior phase

The senior phase, which takes place from S4 to S6 in schools and includes ages 16 to 18 out of school, is the phase when young people will begin to build up a portfolio of qualifications and awards.

Only those young people who are undertaking learning in school, or learning offered in partnership with their secondary school, are included in the performance measures shown on the School Information Dashboard.

Special school A school that provides a range of services that are not available in mainstream schools, offering enhanced provision for pupils who have additional support needs. These include social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, profound or complex learning needs and physical and sensory impairment.
Special unit A unit within a school that can offer the services of a special school but within the context of a mainstream school. The provision of a special unit can facilitate opportunities for pupils with additional support needs to work within the mainstream as well, thereby benefiting social development and inclusion.
State funded The majority of schools in Scotland are state funded, through the Scottish local authorities. The pupils' education, books and stationery are provided free. The funding for this is met from resources raised by local authorities (the council tax and non-domestic rates) and from an annual grant from the Scottish Government. The education budget in each local authority is agreed by the local councillors. Headteachers manage at least 80% of a school's budget, covering staffing, furnishings, repairs, supplies, services and energy costs. Expenditure on new buildings, modernisation projects and equipment is financed by the local authority within the limits set by the government.
Tariff score

The tariff score for a learner is the total number of tariff points for the awards they achieve, taking account of only their latest and best attainment in each subject. This means that, for example, if someone has a National 5 and a Higher in Mathematics, it is the points for the Higher award which are counted.

Subject courses and individual units are awarded tariff points. The number of tariff points awarded depends on: the SCQF level of the course or unit; whether the full course has been undertaken and assessed; and the grade achieved for the course. The average tariff scores of a school's leavers are not directly comparable with other schools'. This is because they are influenced by a range of factors including the number of subjects young people take in the senior phase.

The tariff score used on Insight should not be confused with the term 'tariff' as used by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), which is calculated differently.

Teacher professional judgement

Teachers make professional judgements about children and young people’s progress and achievement on an on-going basis.

Teachers make their professional judgements by considering all of the evidence gathered during the on-going assessment of children and young people’s learning. This may include observations of learners at work, evidence of children’s knowledge and understanding gathered by talking to them about their learning, and assessment of the work they produce in class. It may also include more formal assessment evidence such as results of standardised assessments.

Teachers of children and young people in P1, P4, P7 and S3 in Scotland, are now asked to use the evidence they have about pupils’ progress to decide which level of Curriculum for Excellence they have achieved. This is known as 'teacher professional judgement of achievement of a level'.

Tracking progress When staff assess and record children's progress in learning. This helps staff describe how well a child is doing against Curriculum for Excellence levels.
Videoconferencing facilities Some schools offer videoconferencing facilities, which enable two or more individuals in different locations to talk to and to see each other. Videoconferencing can be used to allow pupils and teachers to communicate with others with similar interests. For example, pupils can collaborate on projects with pupils in other schools; they can communicate with subject experts who cannot visit the school; they can have virtual access to places of educational interest that they might otherwise not be able to visit.
Virtual comparator

Insight allows schools to compare their performance to the performance of a virtual comparator.

The virtual comparator consists of a sample group of school leavers from schools in other local authorities who have similar characteristics to the school leavers from the school in question.

For each school leaver, ten matching school leavers are randomly selected based on gender, additional support needs, stage of leaving school (S4, S5 or S6) and the social context in which they live (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation). These characteristics were selected due to their significance in explaining differences in the attainment and destinations of school leavers in Scotland.

Find technical information on virtual comparators.