If you’re an army family posted to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland (NI), you’ll find that schooling is slightly different in each nation as their governments make the decisions on education. Emma Perrin, AFF Manager Devolved, takes a look at the key variations…

The year and month your child turns five will determine when they start school, which varies in each nation. 

In Scotland, if your child is still only four on the date they are due to start primary school, you may defer their start date by a year, and it may be possible to make a choice in later years if their birthday falls close to the cut-off date at the end of February.

Army mum Kirsty Large told us: “Our son was considered to be on the borderline for intakes so we could choose for him to join either P5 or P6 (Years 4/5 equivalent). Knowing that he would be going back into the English or Welsh system before long, we opted for P6 to continue on his expected progression and not create difficulties down the line.”

With more than 60 grammar schools in NI, there’s a greater chance of being located near one than in other parts of the UK. Be aware that your youngster will need to sit the Common Entrance Assessment, also known as the 11+, although this is not a guarantee of a place.

Army dad Ed says his children have had a particularly good experience in NI: “Our children have done so well, we’re hoping to settle here so they can complete their education.”

The date when the school application process opens and closes varies between local authorities, so it’s important to check the website of the council where you’ll live.

Curriculum conundrum

Some of you may be anxious about the differences on what your child is taught, especially if they end up repeating topics, or need extra support for gaps in their learning. Anna Hutchinson, AFF’s Education Specialist says: “Keep the lines of communication with the school open. They should be able to help fill gaps and likewise should differentiate accordingly for a child who has studied a topic before, so tasks can be made more challenging. Get as much information as you can before you go.”

Becky admitted being nervous about moving to NI: “We weren’t able to speak to others about schools before we moved. When we got there, the education team told us which schools we could apply for. Our children struggled at first because we moved half way through a term. Once they were settled they were fine and really sad to leave.”

Before moving to Scotland from Canada, Amanda Yorke found it difficult to get details about the curriculum for her two sons Jared (16) and Jensen (14): “We struggled to compare the different curriculums. I had to just Google it and visit the AFF website!” Details should also be available via the Scottish government website.

As part of the curriculum in Wales, it’s compulsory for children to learn Welsh. “Both boys enjoyed it. It made them feel very included in the community,” says army spouse Sarah Kelly, who has since moved to Scotland with her sons William (10), Max (8) and Tom (2) after previously living in England. On the move to Scotland, Sarah says: “The boys feel as though they are repeating what they did last year, but having dealt with homeschooling during COVID, this isn’t the end of the world.” Organisations like Forces Children Scotland and SSCE Cymru promote the importance of service children in devolved nations, so if you do have any concerns, do contact them.

Timely terms

The school year is set over three terms across the UK but timings differ. While Wales and England are broadly similar, Scotland’s summer break tends to start and finish earlier.

“It feels like they’re going back to school in the height of summer,” explains Amanda. “But an upside is holidays can be cheaper.”

The earlier start time did cause concerns for Laurie Turner, who was posted to Scotland from NI in September, meaning her daughter Rose (5) made a delayed start to P1: “This caused the most stress for us,” says Laurie. “She ended up joining two weeks later than the rest of her class and I did worry about her missing the experience of getting to know others. Luckily she’s an outgoing child who throws herself into new situations.”

In NI, children have less time off for half terms, but summer holidays run from June to September, around nine weeks. One family told us: “We love the extra-long summer holiday and use it to travel and visit family.”

Grade trade

Your child will study GSCEs and AS/A Levels in England, Wales and NI, but in Scotland, they’ll take National 5s, Highers and Advanced Highers.

Amanda says: “Studying for Nat 5s is very different. Jared enjoys the curriculum in that he specialises in less subjects and feels he gets a more in-depth understanding. I’m concerned that it will affect his future career choices and his exam success though, as he didn’t have the foundation of knowledge in some subjects – he’s had to work very hard.”

If you’re due to move when your children are taking public exams, you can apply to retain your quarter – the AFF website has further information, but do be mindful that there are no guarantees.

Post-16 pathways

In NI, Wales and Scotland, children can leave school at the end of Year 11, as young as 15 depending on when their birthday falls.

In England it’s compulsory for young people to stay in education or training until at least their 18th birthday.

Moving with SEND

If your child has Special Educational Needs and/or Disability and you’re moving, the key thing is to make sure you register your child’s SEND through AGAI 81. The ‘local offer’ may be slightly different in each nation, which can be confusing. If you need any help, email healthsupport@aff.org.uk.

Your experiences

Overall, your view of school life in any location is bound to vary depending on your own circumstances.

Laurie adds: “Rose sees living in Scotland like a big adventure. How many five-yearolds can say that they’ve lived in three out of the four UK nations already?!”

Sarah concludes: “Both boys have benefitted from going to school all over the UK. Each has brought challenges but it’s given them some incredible life skills to take forward into senior school.”

Full details of the differences can be found in our handy table.

Don’t forget, if you have any issues or concerns, you can talk to AFF. We work closely with many organisations across the nations, plus the MOD’s Global Education Team, to feed in information about your experiences across the UK.