Non-state actors in education


1. Terminology

2. Typology of provision

2.1 State education provision 

2.2 Non-state education provision 

2.3 Other types of schools 

3. Governance and regulations

3.1 Regulations by distinct levels of education

3.2 Supplementary private tutoring 


  1. Terminology

The School Education (Ministerial Powers and Independent Schools) (Scotland) Act 2004 provides that all “non-public schools” are “independent schools” in Scotland. The Education (Scotland) Act 1980 (as amended in 2020), which governs all education levels from early childhood to further and higher education in Scotland, distinguishes between a “public school, a grant-aided school or an independent school”. A grant-aided school is defined as a “school in respect of which grants are made by the Secretary of State to the managers of the schoolbut does not include a public school or a technology academy”, while an independent school is defined as a “school at which full-time education is provided for pupils of school age (whether or not such education is also provided for pupils under or over that age), not being a public school or a grant-aided school". A “proprietor” in relation to an independent school is defined as “the managers of such school, and for the purposes of the provisions of this Act relating to applications for the registration of independent schools includes any person or body of persons proposing to be the managers”. The term “managers” is then defined as "the governing body, trustees, or other person or body of persons responsible for the management of the establishment but does not include an education authority". The Registration of Independent Schools (Scotland) Regulations 2006 additionally refers to an “individual proprietor” or a “proprietor who is not an individual (e.g., corporate body)”. The Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992 defines a “governing body” as the “body of an institution conducted by a body corporate”, with college premises owned by a “person” or “trust”. Finally, the Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Act 2016 stipulate that a designated higher education institution may be a “registered company” with “no order of the Privy Council (being) in force with respect to it”.


  1. Typology of provision

2.1 State education provision

State schools

Most education (96% of schools and enrolments) at primary (ages 5 – 11), lower secondary (ages 12 – 15) and upper secondary (ages 16 – 18) level in Scotland is provided by the state (through local authorities). Education is free and compulsory from the ages of 5 – 16.

In 2020, there were 15% denominational schools, the majority (99%) of which were Roman Catholic. These schools are run as state schools, having transferred to state ownership, funding, and management in the 1920s. The state has the sole authority to regulate the curriculum and teaching in these schools (and other denominational schools of different faiths), as stipulated in the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 (as amended in 2020). According to the Act, the state (through local authorities) may establish a denominational school of any faith on its own initiative or in response to representations made by any church or denominational body. However, while these schools are run as state schools, they are expected to retain their own Catholic ethos and identity and offer teaching based on the values of the Catholic Church (catering to both Catholic students and students of different or independent faiths). Out of the 369 Catholic schools, the majority (84%) are primary schools, followed by secondary (14%) and special schools (1%). There are also a few (1%) independent Catholic schools. Out of 378 denominational schools in Scotland, 97% are owned, managed, and funded by the state (through local authorities). 

The state also funds and manages Gaelic schools, which deliver Gaelic medium education in about 60 primary schools (and their associated secondary schools), which is an option in Scottish state education that gives students the opportunity to become fluent in Gaelic (with the entire curriculum taught in Gaelic).

Non-state managed, state schools

No information was found.

Non-state funded, state schools

No information was found.

2.2 Non-state education provision

Independent, non-state schools

Independent schools (also referred to as private or fee-paying schools) are independently owned and funded, charging fees for student attendance. In 2021, there were 91 independent schools in Scotland (86% of which were classified as non-denominational and just over a third as Additional Support Needs Schools), covering 4% of total schools and enrolments (with many students attending these schools coming from abroad). These schools may be co-educational or single-sex schools, day or boarding schools, with the responsibility for their operation lying exclusively with their proprietors (receiving no financial support by the state). However, most of these schools are registered as charities, receiving certain tax reliefs and benefits. There is no legal requirement for independent schools to follow the national curriculum (Curriculum for Excellence), although the majority of them do. Many independent schools adapt the curriculum taking account the school’s particular ethos or religious orientation. There are also a few independent schools which follow Steiner or Montessori pedagogies. Over 75% of independent schools are members of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS).

State-funded (government-aided), non-state schools

Scotland also has 8 grant-aided schools (covering 0.3% of all schools), 7 of which are special schools catering to students with special educational needs. These schools receive direct funding from the Scottish government and local authorities and do not charge any fees for student attendance. They follow the national curriculum (Curriculum for Excellence).

Contracted, non-state schools

No information was found.

2.3 Other types of schools


Homeschooling is legal in Scotland under the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 (as amended in 2020) and the  Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000. The government has also published Home Education Guidance in 2008 to help parents who are considering home education. Parents are legally responsible for providing education for their children at school age (5 to 16) but schooling itself is not compulsory. 

During the COVID-19 crisis in 2020, the Scottish government published several guides to support schools and families with learning from home, such as the Supporting Pupils and Parents with Learning at Home Guide for Early Learning and Childcare Settings and Schools 2020 and guide to blended learning.

Market contracted (Voucher schools)

No information was found.

Unregistered/Unrecognized schools

No information was found.


  1. Governance and regulations

The Scotland Act 1998 gave the Scottish parliament legislative control over all areas of education in Scotland. The education system in Scotland has been historically different from other regions of the United Kingdom, with the establishment of the Scottish parliament further reinforcing the country’s sense of education ownership and distinctiveness in areas such as language (English, Gaelic and Scots), religious education (significant role played by churches), and decentralization (with many aspects of the education system decentralized to local authorities).

At the central level, the First Minister for Scotland is responsible for the overall supervision and development of the education system (including state and non-state provision) through the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills. Responsibilities are shared between the Ministers for Childcare and Early Years, Further Education, Higher Education and Science, which are advised by national public bodies that deal with the quality and improvement of Scottish education (state and non-state). These include Education Scotland, the Scottish Qualifications Authority, and the Scottish Funding Council. The Care Inspectorate is specifically responsible for the registration of early childhood education centers and boarding schools.

At the local level, 32 local authorities (or local government councils) have direct responsibility for the registration and monitoring of schools within their jurisdiction and implementation of government policies in education.

The Scottish Catholic Education Service develops and implements strategic plans for the development of Catholic education in Scotland (with the Roman Catholic Church of Scotland retaining considerable influence over the teaching and ethos of Catholic schools), while the Scottish Council of Independent Schools represents and supports independent schools in close partnership with the government and national bodies. The Office of the Registrar of Independent Schools is the government office responsible for registering all independent schools in Scotland.

Vision: According to an Education Scotland Consultation Paper published in September 2021, the Registrar of Independent Schools will “support the development and implementation of government policy in relation to independent schools”. In the Education Reform 2021 Consultation Paper, there was no specific mention of independent schools.


3.1 Regulations by distinct levels of education

In Scotland, early childhood care and education (ECCE) covers ages 0 – 5 and is provided in nurseries (independent or within primary schools), children and family centres, childminders, and private and third sector settings. Providers are local authorities, for-profit private businesses (run by a sole trader, partnership, or limited company), non-profit voluntary sector organizations (including charities), and (for childminders) self-employed individuals. Non-state actors play an important role in ECCE provision, with local authorities often contracting these providers to supplement their own preschool education provision. In 2017, over half of nurseries (the main type of ECCE provision) were owned and run by local authorities (61%), followed by private nurseries (31%) and voluntary/non-profit nurseries (8%). Similarly, local authorities accounted for just over half of all nursery enrolments (53%), followed by private (40%) and voluntary/non-profit (7%) providers.

Early childhood education settings are regulated similar to schools at primary/secondary level in the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 (as amended in 2020) and the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000.


Registration and approval: Non-state nurseries which cater exclusively to children under compulsory school age (age of 5) are not registered as independent schools, but required to be registered as care services with the Care Inspectorate under the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act 2010. Local education authorities may also enter into an arrangement with any person (in the private, voluntary, or childminding sectors) for the provision of ECCE services, working with these providers to secure the entitlement to fully-funded early childcare and education, as stipulated in the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000. While the Care Inspectorate has specific requirements for the registration of care services, in order to become a funded provider under the Funding Follows the Child 2018 scheme, settings must additionally meet the National Standard criteria (which are complemented by operating guidance).

License: If the required standards are met and registration is granted by the Care Inspectorate, the provider is issued a certificate of registration (subject to certain conditions).

Financial operation

Profit-makingProfit-making is not regulated at the ECCE level, with providers allowed to be private businesses operating on a for-profit basis or voluntary/non-profit providers (such as charities) which re-invest their profits back into the service.

Taxes and subsidiesThe Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000 enables local education authorities to enter into arrangements with providers in the private, voluntary or childminding sectors for the delivery of funded ECCE supported by the Funding Follows the Child 2018 scheme. The scheme was introduced by the Scottish government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) to support a wider system of ECCE delivery based on a ‘provider neutral’ approach that ensures a mixed provision model between state, private, voluntary, and childminding providers and give parents the choice in ECCE delivery setting within their area. All settings (regardless of ownership) must provide sufficient evidence to the local authority that they meet the National Standard criteria in order to become and continue being a funded provider (through a signed contract with the local authority), which include requirements in staffing, management, physical environment, self-evaluation, parental engagement, inclusion, fair working practices, and child development. The National Standard criteria apply regardless of specific setting characteristics, such as language of instruction (which may be English or Gaelic), religious philosophy (with funding provided to religious or non-denominational settings), or indoor/outdoor provision. From August 2020, children aged 3 – 4 (and eligible 2-year-olds) are entitled to 1,140 hours of funded of ECCE provision per year (increased from 600) in eligible state, private, voluntary, or childminding services of their parents’ choice, with choice of settings not restricted to their own local authority boundaries.

Quality of teaching and learning

Curriculum and education standards: All ECCE providers have a responsibility to plan a curriculum that will jointly enable children to transition smoothly between early childhood and primary education level (building on prior learning and achievement), which should be guided by the National Practice Guidance on Early Learning and Childcare: Realising the Ambition, the Curriculum for Excellence Early Level that begins at age 3, and The Early Years Framework (2008). ECCE can also be provided in Gaelic, although there are no legal requirements for this. All funded providers that have signed a contract with local authorities under the Funding Follows the Child 2018 scheme are required to maintain the National Standard.

Teaching professionAll teaching/caregiving staff employed in ECCE settings (irrespective of ownership) must be registered with the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) or the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) and meet the required qualifications. Childminders are only required to register with the Care Inspectorate. State-funded providers under the Funding Follows the Child scheme (regardless of whether they are state, private, voluntary, or childminding services) must additionally meet the required adult-children ratios, pay their childcare workers the real Living Wage, and commit to adopting Fair Work practices. As part of the Fair Work practices, settings must take into account fair and equal pay and promoting equality of opportunity by developing a workforce that reflects the Scottish population in terms of age, gender, religion, race, sexual orientation, and disability characteristics.

Equitable access

Fee-settingThe Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000 requires that ECCE services in funded, contracted settings (state, private, or voluntary) under the Funding Follows the Child scheme must be provided free-of-charge. This means that any upfront payments (including deposits or other payments) and top-up fees are prohibited. Parents may request additional hours beyond the funded 1,140 hours or extra-curricular activities but these must be optional and not a requirement for attendance. Funded services are additionally required to offer the children free school meals. ECCE services which do not receive state funding may set their own fees, without the intervention of local authorities, although there are other systems of tax subsidies and social security systems in place.

Admission selection and processesLocal education authorities are responsible for putting an admission system in place within their area to ensure that children entitled to funded ECCE services are receiving their entitled service. Under Funding Follows the Child, families should be able to choose to access their child’s ECCE entitlement at any setting that meets the National Standard (irrespective of ownership), has a place available, and has entered into a contract with the local authority. This choice is not restricted to their local authority boundary, and they must be treated on an equal basis in any of the funded settings.

Policies for vulnerable groupsAll state-funded ECCE settings (irrespective of ownership) must comply with the Equality Act 2010, the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 (and Code of Practice) and Education (Disability Strategies and Pupils’ Educational Records) (Scotland) Act 2002. This means all settings must ensure children’s additional support needs do not provide a barrier to them accessing the full range of funded ECCE services and are adequately addressed. Moreover, funded ECCE services are required to develop and publish accessibility strategies to increase these children’s access to the curriculum, the physical environment, and communication. The Early Years Framework 2009 seeks to break the negative cycles of inequality through early intervention.

Quality assurance, monitoring and accountability

Reporting requirements: All funded ECCE providers (irrespective of ownership) are accountable to the Care Inspectorate for their fulfilment of the National Standard (which determines whether they will continue being funded). As part of the National Standard criteria, funded providers are required to use self-evaluation frameworks to self-evaluate and systematically identify their strengths and areas of improvement guided by the six-point scale in the How good is our early learning and childcare? Framework (which are helpful for inspectors). Settings must also have a plan to continuously improve the quality of their provision and outcomes for children. One of the aims of the National Standard is to ensure that all funded ECCE settings are delivering the highest quality of early learning and childcare.

Inspection: All ECCE settings (irrespective of ownership) are monitored by Scottish Ministers (under the Education (Scotland) Act 1980) and the Care Inspectorate (under the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act 2010). Within 12 months of their registration, the Care Inspectorate conducts a full inspection of ECCE settings. Funded ECCE settings are subject to inspection by the Care Inspectorate on a risk-based frequency cycle, with some providers also sampled for inspection by Her Majesty’s (HM) Inspectors of Education. HM Inspectors of Education have the power to inspect any ECCE setting under the Education Act, while the Care Inspectorate is responsible for inspecting and regulating all registered ECCE providers, taking into account the National Health and Social Care Standards and (in the case of funded providers) the National Standard. Before an inspection, all providers are required to complete a brief self-evaluation summary form.

Child assessment: Funded ECCE providers are required to assess the development of the children’s cognitive skills and health and well-being and demonstrate to the Care Inspectorate how they are supporting these outcomes for children in relation to their development.

Sanctions: Funding may be ceased for providers under the Funding Follows the Child scheme if the service drops below the required quality criteria (and not addressing the ‘service improvement period’). The Care Inspectorate may cancel a service’s registration if it is found to not be meeting the required standards and regulations. If any person provides an ECCE service that is unregistered, that person commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine and/or imprisonment for up to 3 months, as stipulated in the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act 2010.


Registration and approval: The Education (Scotland) Act 1980 (as amended in 2020) allows “any person or body of persons” to provide education outside the local authority system from early childhood to secondary level. These establishments are required to be registered with the Scottish Ministers as independent schools under Section 98 of the Act (which is specific to independent schools). Independent boarding schools must also register their boarding provision with the Care Inspectorate as a school care accommodation service in accordance with the Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001 (which is a separate process from the registration with the Scottish Ministers. According to the Registration of Independent Schools in Scotland: Guidance for Applicants, Proprietors, and Parents 2021 and the Registration of Independent Schools (Scotland) Regulations 2006 “anyone” (including a private individual or body corporate) can apply to register an independent school, provided they are not barred from working with children and a member of the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (‘PVG’) Scheme. Applications must be based on a prescribed form and include any information required in the Schedule to the Registration of Independent Schools (Scotland) Regulations 2006, including the type of school (primary, secondary, additional support for learning, church or other denominational, and whether day or boarding facilities are offered), student numbers, curriculum, and premise information. Applicants must satisfy the Scottish Ministers that the school is able to provide suitable education to their target age group, has systems in place to safeguard the welfare of students, has suitable premises (complying with building requirements), and that the manager and teachers are ‘proper persons’ for their role (in terms of qualifications and experience). Student-staff ratios must additionally be approved. Applications are then forwarded to HM Inspectors which carry out a pre-registration visit to the school to check that the proposed accommodation is fit for purpose and that the required standards are met.

License: If satisfied that the applicant meets the required standards, the Scottish Ministers may grant the independent school registration (subject to certain conditions) and include the school details in the Register of Indepe​ndent Schools. The Register is the responsibility of the Office of the Registrar of Independent Schools, which must ensure that the list is regularly updated and open to the public.

Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)All independent and grant-aided school providers must be aware of their responsibilities in ensuring the health and safety of students and staff in their schools under the Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001 and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. State schools and grant-aided schools are also subject to the Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Act 2007. The sanitary facilities of all schools are evaluated by HM Inspectors based upon minimum standards, which include specific ratios for toilets and hand wash basins.

Financial operation

Profit-makingWhile it is not a requirement for registration, most independent schools in Scotland have charitable status and must be of “public benefit”, as they are registered as charities under the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005 overseen by the Scottish Charity Regulator. The rest of independent schools are registered as companies and allowed to be profit-making entities.

Taxes and subsidiesUnder the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 (as amended in 2020), certain non-state schools in Scotland (most of which serve students with special educational needs) are classified as ‘grant-aided’ schools, which means these schools receive annual grant funding directly from the Scottish government and are subject to similar minimum standards to state schools. Grant-aided schools are free to determine how to use the funding but are expected to account for their use of funds to the government. Special schools receive annual grant funding based on the Special Schools (Scotland) Grant Regulations 1990, which are subject to conditions determined by the Scottish government, including a section on the safeguarding and the protection of vulnerable groups and teacher salaries. While independent schools do not receive any funding from the government, schools which are registered as charities benefit from tax reliefs accorded to all charities under the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005. The status of independent schools as charities has been a matter of debate in the Scottish Parliament, which received a petition in 2014 to remove their charitable status. While the petition was closed, a Bill has been introduced which would remove the rates reduction from mainstream independent schools registered as charities.

Quality of teaching and learning

Curriculum and education standardsThere is no legal requirement for independent schools to follow the national curriculum (the Curriculum for Excellence), although a large majority of them do. Independent schools often adapt their curriculum taking into account the school’s specific philosophy or religious orientation (with a small number of independent schools following Steiner and Montessori philosophies). All independent schools should however, deliver a broad and balanced curriculum that covers courses in English language and literacy, mathematics and numeracy, health and well-being, technology, science, social studies, physical education, expressive arts, and religious and moral education, as stated in the Registration of Independent Schools in Scotland: Guidance for Applicants, Proprietors, and Parents 2021.  Grant-aided schools on the other hand are legally required to follow the Curriculum for Excellence, which is a single coherent curriculum that covers ages 3 to 18.

Textbooks and learning materialsThe learning material and teaching resources used in independent schools is reviewed by the government during inspections.

Teaching professionThe Registration of Independent Schools (Prescribed Person) (Scotland) Regulations 2017 requires all teachers in independent schools to be registered with the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) under the Public Services Reform (General Teaching Council for Scotland) Order 2011, which sets professional standards for all teachers in Scottish schools. The Requirements for Teachers (Scotland) Regulations 2005 were amended in 2017 to require all teachers in grant-aided schools to also be registered with the GTCS. All teachers must be fully qualified (having gained a degree qualification through a university and/or teacher education institute, with requirements for admission in early childhood and primary level being the same. Salaries and working conditions for teachers in independent schools are determined based on an agreement between school proprietors and members of staff.

Corporal punishmentCorporal punishment is prohibited in all school settings in Scotland (including grant-aided and independent schools). While the prohibition originally only applied to state and grant-aided schools, it was extended to independent schools in 2000. However, in 2014, the Government confirmed that legislation does not prohibit corporal punishment in “unregistered independent settings providing part-time education”. The Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000 also includes a provision for “no justification for corporal punishment”. Moreover, all independent school providers are required to submit a copy of their child protection policy upon registration and all managers and staff must be familiar with the requirements of Protecting Children and Young People: Framework for Standards 2004 as well as the Protecting Children and Young People: The Charter.

Other safety measures and Covid-19General guidance on health and wellbeing in schools is provided in the Scottish Government webpages, which include information on mental health, anti-bullying, LGBTI inclusive education, and gender-based violence. Getting it Right for Every Child is the national approach to improving the well-being of children ad young people in Scotland, with early intervention and prevention as key principles (which also apply to independent schools).

Equitable access

Fee-settingGrant-aided schools are prohibited from charging student fees (similar to state schools) and their students are eligible for the same type of financial support provided to students in state schools. Independent schools that are not part of the Assisted Places Scheme (see below) are free to set their own fees. This remains valid for independent schools which are found to not be complying with regulations, in which case the Scottish Ministers have no powers to force the school to repay or waive school fees.

Admission selection and processesAccording to the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 (as amended in 2020), state schools and grant-aided schools must be open to students of all denominations. These schools are prohibited from being selective in their admissions process and must generally accept children living within the catchment area of the school. If parents want their child to attend a school outside their catchment area, a ‘placing request’ may be submitted to their local education authority. Independent schools on the other hand are free to select their students (unlike state and grant-aided schools) on the basis of ability. Each independent school has its own admissions policy and entrance procedures.

Policies for vulnerable groupsThe Education (Disability Strategies and Pupils' Educational Records) (Scotland) Act 2002 and the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 requires independent and grant-aided schools to support students with special educational needs with their learning through improving the physical environment of the school so that it is more accessible to students with disabilities, preparing and implementing accessibility strategies to increase the extent to which students with disabilities can follow the curriculum, and improving the school’s communication of information to students with disability (in appropriate alternative forms). Local education authorities are additionally given discretionary powers to make provision for students with additional support needs in independent schools.

Students in grant-aided schools are also eligible for the same type of financial support provided for students in state schools. This includes free school meals to students whose parents receive income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, universal credit, are on a low income, or are asylum seekers and free school transport for students attending designated schools. Moreover, grant-aided schools are required to provide additional support to students with special educational needs without charge to their families (such as learning support staff, special resources, and transport). The government also has an Assisted Places Scheme available for grant-aided and independent schools, with participating schools not charging any fees (with the exception of boarding fees and entrance fees for state examinations) for students admitted as part of the scheme (the funding of which is reimbursed from the Secretary of State to the school), as stipulated in the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 (as amended in 2020). Schools that are part of the scheme may also be required to make grants to cover other expenses such as travelling or provision of meals.

Quality assurance, monitoring and accountability

School board: Independent schools at the early childhood and school stages are responsible for their own administrative and management systems, which are usually broadly similar to the state school system through a Board of Governors. The schools must propose their leadership and governance arrangements to the Scottish Ministers upon registration.

Reporting requirements: Independent schools are entirely responsible for their financial accountability (with financial viability not being a criterion for registration of independent schools). However, independent schools that are registered as charities or companies must ensure they meet the relevant statutory requirements regarding the keeping of financial accounts. According to the Registration of Independent Schools (Scotland) Regulations 2006, independent schools are however required to supply the information listed in the Schedule to the Registrar on an annual basis. In the case of grant-aided schools, while these schools are free to decide how to use government funding, they remain accountable to the Scottish government for the use of the funds received.

School inspection: Independent and grant-aided schools are inspected based on the same framework applied by Education Scotland to state schools, while independent boarding schools are inspected by the Care Inspectorate twice a year. HM Inspectors initially carry out a post-registration inspection within 9 months of the school’s registration, after which the school enters into the normal annual inspection cycle. When conducting inspections of independent schools, Education Scotland must be mindful of the variety of independent schools, their legislative framework, and the specific size and aims of the school concerned. In cases of independent boarding schools, Education Scotland conducts inspections in partnership with officers from the Care Inspectorate, according to arrangements made with the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS). HM Inspectors also inspect independent schools on an annual basis, similar to state and grant-aided schools in Scotland. Inspection visits aim for the quality improvement and capacity building of all schools in Scotland (irrespective of ownership).

Student assessment: There is no requirement for independent schools to follow state examinations, with regulations only providing for the Secretary of State to make provision for the testing and assessment of students in state schools.

Diplomas and degreesThere is no school leaving diploma or equivalent in Scotland. Students at upper secondary level can take a number of ‘national courses’ leading to approved external national qualifications, which are single-subject qualifications based on a wide range of subjects. The Scottish Qualifications Authority is responsible for awarding and accrediting national qualifications, while each individual institution (in consultation with parents and students) decides on the precise number and range of qualifications on offer. The main general qualification for progression to higher education is the National Qualification Higher.

Sanctions: If an independent school fails to meet the registration requirements or regulations (such as showing evidence of insufficient or unsuitable instruction, student welfare not adequately safeguarded, or unsuitable premises or accommodation) the Scottish Ministers may serve the proprietor a notice of complaint. If there is no evidence of improvement, the Ministers may order the Registrar to remove the school from the register (effectively closing the school). An independent school which has been removed from the register may no longer operate. If any person continues to operate a school that has been removed from the register, they may be liable upon summary conviction to a fine and/or imprisoned for up to 3 months. The Scottish Ministers also have the authority to make an order disqualifying any premises from being used as a school or disqualifying a proprietor from being the proprietor of any independent school.  

In Scotland, tertiary education is provided by 16 autonomous universities, 3 higher education institutions, and 25 further education colleges which receive funding by the Scottish Funding Council and only one of which is considered ‘independent private’. Universities are not state entities, but autonomous charitable bodies. They are independent from the Scottish government, although they are subject to a number of regulations and accountability mechanisms from several bodies and receive public funding. 

Universities are categorized into (a) ancient universities (founded in the 15th and 16th centuries), (b) chartered universities (established by royal charter in the 1960s), (c) post 1992 universities (‘new universities’) which were designated by the Secretary of State as universities under the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992, and (d) small specialist institutions (3) which draw on a mixture of the Companies Act 2006, the  Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992, and other legislation.

There is no institutional provision of independent (non-government funded) non-state education in the higher education sector, with independent private providers mostly offering educational and training courses in various fields. Small specialist institutions have validation agreements with a university or degree-awarding body which approve their courses and assessment arrangements and award their degrees. There is only one independent private higher education institution (HEI), the Al-Maktoum College in Dundee, which is validated by the University of Aberdeen and recognized by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and the UK Quality Assurance Agency (QAA). There are also a few private further education colleges and English language schools that offer non-higher education degrees and have been approved by government. The Education (Recognised Bodies) (Scotland) Order 2018 lists all the recognized HEIs which have been authorised by Royal Charter or by an Act of Parliament to grant degrees and the Education (Listed Bodies) (Scotland) Order 2018 lists other bodies which provide courses leading to a degree granted by a recognized body and constituent colleges of a recognized university.


Registration and approval: The Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992 and the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 2005 (which mainly govern higher education in Scotland) do not include any provisions for the establishment of a new non-state HEI or college. The 1992 Act gives the Secretary of State the authority to establish new institutions, merge existing institutions, and designate by order certain existing HEIs as ‘universities’. Designated institutions may be companies registered under the Companies Act 2006, while existing institutions may also enter into validation agreements with recognized universities or degree-awarding institutions for the approval of their courses, assessments, and the awarding of their degrees. The Act also includes provisions for transferring the management of colleges of further education which are ‘not under the management of a board of management or of an education authority’ (owned by ‘another person or trust’) to the management of a body corporate known as ‘the Board of Management of’ the college. The Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (which includes provisions that apply to the whole United Kingdom) stipulates that Scottish Ministers will need to approve the application of a higher education provider and that these institutions are considered ‘United Kingdom (UK) higher education providers’ and included in the provisions relating to quality standards (which may be rated by the Office of Students).

Private further education colleges (established as legal entities) may seek educational oversight (moving out of the ‘entirely private arena’ into the ‘public domain’) if they mostly offer non-higher education degrees (below level 8) by Education Scotland (through an application). Educational oversight is only granted if the institution meets specific requirements and provides education programs within the relevant frameworks for education, which include demonstrating a commitment to academic quality and education standards. If the college mostly offers higher education degrees, (above level 8), an application must be made to the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA). If the application is accepted, the Home Office is informed.

License: There were no educational provisions found for the licensing of non-state HEIs or private colleges, only for their recognition and oversight.

Financial operation

Profit-makingScottish universities have charitable status, registered as charities under the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005. Designated institutions may be companies registered under the Companies Act 2006. There is no regulation limiting profit-making in private colleges

Taxes and subsidiesThe Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 2005 gives the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council the authority to make grants to further education institutions (including colleges) and HEIs if they are designated as “fundable bodies” and their programs as “fundable further or higher education” in the schedule, subject to certain conditions. Most research funding is distributed based on the Research Excellence Framework, carried out on a UK-wide basis by the 4 UK higher education funding bodies. Institutions may be also provided with grants for specific research projects and programs. The Act allows the schedule list to be modified (by including or removing institutions) if an institution meets or fails to meet specific requirements.

Quality of teaching and learning

Curriculum and education standardsThe Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992 allows designated institutions to determine their courses of study or programs that are appropriate for the grant of any award or distinction. In the case of institutions that have entered into validation agreements with recognized universities or degree-awarding institutions, programs and courses are approved by the respective university or degree-awarding institution.

Teaching professionAcademic staff in higher education institutions are employees of individual institutions (not civil servants), with each institution responsible for appointing and employing their own staff. Salary structures and working conditions are negotiated for all higher education staff in the UK through the Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff, with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association representing higher education employers and the University and College Union (UCU) representing academic staff.  The pay structures and conditions of employment agreed nationally are not mandatory, with local implementation negotiated between individual institutions and local associations and branches of the UCU. Private colleges seeking educational oversight by Education Scotland must submit their teaching staff qualifications to be approved upon application. According to the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998 also applies to Scotland.

Equitable access

Fee-settingFunded HEIs may be subject to fee caps by the Scottish Ministers.

Admission selection and processesAccording to the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 2005, the Scottish Ministers may require any funded institution to comply with a ‘widening access’ agreement, in which the institution must take action to enable and encourage the participation of disadvantaged and under-represented groups. Institutions otherwise have the autonomy to manage their own admissions processes.

Quality assurance, monitoring and accountability

Board: The Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 2005 gives the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council the authority to require funded HEIs or colleges to comply with principles of governance which are considered ‘best practice’ to the Council. The Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Act 2016 specifically includes provisions for the governance of universities and designated institutions (without, again, specifically referring to non-state institutions, but listed institutions in schedules). Colleges under the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992 must be governed by a body corporate known as the Board of Management of that college.

Reporting requirements: HEIs and colleges have full responsibility for the use of their funding, including in staffing, resources, and administrative support. Each institution has its own internal system of financial accountability and audit. The Scottish Funding Council only works with institutions to develop their Outcome Agreements (and identified priorities), which were introduced in 2012. For private colleges, self-evaluation and existing quality frameworks are used to ensure the high quality of the programs offered in relation to outcomes and impact service delivery, and leadership and quality culture and keep the providers accountable.

Inspection: The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) for Higher Education makes judgements on UK institutions ability to manage their own quality standards, with no system for institutional accreditation. The Scottish Funding Council and QAA are responsible for evaluating each institution through the UK Quality Code for Higher Education (although this is not a legal requirement). Private colleges which have applied for educational oversight under Education Scotland are subject to inspections and re-inspections by Education Scotland in accordance with the quality indicators and grading system in the Inspection arrangements for private further education colleges and English language schools in Scotland 2002. Education Scotland has been approved by the Home Office to carry out these inspections. This allows for parity between state and private colleges, where comparable evaluations can be made. Inspection reports are made available on Education Scotland’s website for 4 years.

Assessment: Institutions that have entered into validation agreements with recognized universities or degree-awarding institutions must have their student assessment processes approved by the respective university or degree-awarding institution.

Diplomas and degreesThe Privy Council has the authority to specify any HEI in Scotland as competent to grant awards and distinctions, as stipulated in the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992. The power to grant degrees allows HEIs to do so jointly with other institutions. Recognized universities or degree-awarding institutions that have entered into validation agreements with other institutions (such as colleges) are authorized to award the institutions’ degrees. The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) approves education and training establishments to award SQA qualifications (not higher education degrees), as stipulated in the Education (Scotland) Act 1996, while the UK Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) approves higher education qualifications. Private colleges that are overseen by Education Scotland may only award degrees below level 8 (non-higher education degrees).

Sanctions: According to the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992, the Secretary of State may order the closure of any designated institution.

3.2  Supplementary private tutoring

The private tuition industry in the UK is considered a ‘free market’, in the sense that it is free from regulation by a specific governing body and the government. 


Private tutoring agencies are registered as limited companies under the Companies Act 2006.

Financial operation and quality

During the COVID-19 crisis, private tuition classes taking place at private homes or in small business settings received guidance from the COVID-19 guidance on small and micro businesses.

Teaching profession

 Tutors that work for a private tutoring agency in the UK are required to present a certificate from the Criminal Records Bureau that indicates that they have not been convicted of a crime. Private tutors who run their own business (self-employed) are required to be registered with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), where they declare their income similar to any other form of self-employment. There are no standard qualifications for private tutoring in the UK.  

Last modified:

Thu, 16/03/2023 - 12:05