S1 & S2

For our pupils to be successful in the 21st Century they need to be equipped with the skills that will enable them to access learning, process information and make connections in their understanding of the world throughout their lives. There is an emphasis within the S1/S2 Curriculum on teachers explicitly teaching Learning Skills through their subject content. All pupils will have the opportunity to make connections through Interdisciplinary Learning and there will be opportunities for pupils to increase their International awareness and understanding. 

The S1/S2 curriculum provides a coherent and balanced programme of study encompassing: core subjects (English, Maths and Modern Languages), science subjects, social subjects, expressive subjects, technology-based subjects, and personal and social development. 

Pupils are broadly banded into classes by ability in Mathematics and English (from S1) and Modern Languages (from S2), enabling them to progress at their own pace. They are taught in form classes in many, but not all, subjects. The mix of pupils in groupings, outwith the form structure, allows them to get to know a large number of their year group. 

Pupils are broadly banded into classes by ability in Mathematics and English (from S1) and Modern Languages (from S2), enabling them to progress at their own pace. They are taught in form classes in many, but not all, subjects. The mix of pupils in groupings, outwith the form structure, allows them to get to know a large number of their year group.

S1 Curriculum
S1 Curriculum table
S2 Curriculum
S2 Curriculum table

In January of S2 we begin an extensive programme of subject choice advice. By providing details of courses offered, conducting individual interviews and organising parents’ information forums and parents' evenings, we seek to ensure that, at this important decision-making stage, all involved are informed and in agreement.

two pupils in the Art Department

S3 & S4

In S3 and S4 all pupils must study English, Mathematics and the Modern Language that they studied in S1 and S2. In addition, all pupils have 'Core Time' periods of Personal and Social Development, Physical Education and Religion and Philosophy, and a choice of other non-certificate options. Pupils study eight subjects and there is a wide variety of subject permutations available, thus enabling a degree of specialisation in areas of strength whilst keeping future options open. 

Pupils study toward National 4 and National 5 in S3 and S4. These are the qualifications, based on the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence, which have been recently introduced by the SQA to replace Standard Grade and Intermediate 1 and 2. The diagram below gives a rough equivalence between the three types of qualification.

Qualification types progression

One of the main differences between the previous qualifications and National 4 is that they were assessed externally at the end of S4 by public examination and pupils received a grade; National 4 is assessed internally by the subject department, moderated by the SQA, and pupils are awarded a Pass or Fail. The National 5 qualification is assessed externally and pupils will receive a grade A-D for this. The majority of our pupils will progress directly onto National 5 in their S3/S4 subjects; those for whom the National 4 qualification is a more appropriate stepping stone on the way to National 5 will find that the nature of the assessment within this qualification will allow them to develop their confidence and skills in a supportive manner. 

Certain departments may group pupils dependent upon their ability, so that the pace and content are appropriate to the individual's level. Such setting allows inclusion of some Higher Grade topics or concepts in S4 for pupils with particular ability in a subject.

Early in S4, pupils start to consider their future choices by participating in the ISCO Futurewise tests for interest, ability and aptitude, and they are given interviews following these tests. A programme of information and discussion meetings takes place in the Spring Term, to allow the pupils to make an informed choice of courses for S5 and S6. This involves parents and pupils, Departments, Year Heads and the Careers Service.

S5 & S6


Pupils are encouraged to regard S5 and S6 as a coherent programme of academic study and progression. Pupils study five main subjects in S5, normally including English and Mathematics. It is possible to take up certain new subjects at an appropriate level. Currently, we offer a range of 28 different Highers to pupils in S5 and S6, in a wide variety of combinations. We also offer many subjects at levels below Higher and we do not regard these as less important, as they offer coherent progression from achievement in S4.

By February of S5, all pupils (both SQA and IB) will have chosen their own Personal Tutor from the teaching staff. The Tutor's role is to guide their tutees through the important months of examination and to talk to them and their parents about future plans. After the exams, and with the help of tutors, the Careers Advisory Service and the Guidance staff, pupils begin to make provisional S6 subject choices. These can be from the unrivalled range of Advanced Highers on offer, or include Higher or National courses. There is also a variety of non-certificate modular and short courses available to S6, intended to encourage intellectual exploration and to broaden interests.

We aim to encourage self-reliance among S6 pupils in many ways. Overall, S6 pupils are accountable for approximately 75% of their time in School, including four periods of study in the S6 library, and are given freedom to plan their further study time beyond this. The more advanced the level of study, the more autonomy they are given. Unallocated periods help S6 pupils learn to manage their time in advance of going on to future study or the world of work. Much advice and guidance is given on how to use time, how to plan ahead, and how to anticipate events rather than react to them. 

Most of our S6 pupils take up an opportunity to do some form of service, either in the local Edinburgh community or in the School itself. The latter can include helping in the Junior School or with the Support for Learning Department, as Office Bearers or in particular teaching departments. We have a wide variety of interest subjects available to S6 pupils to enrich their experiences and all pupils follow courses in money management and healthy cooking to prepare them for life beyond school. 

International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme

George Watson’s College is authorised as an IB World School. IB World Schools are schools that share a common philosophy – a commitment to high quality, challenging, international education. The IB offers internationally recognised programmes of study and assessment that are governed by this independent non-profit making organisation. There are currently 3,717 authorised IB schools operating in 146 countries across the world. The curriculum and pedagogy of IB programmes focus on international perspectives of learning and teaching, while requiring pupils to explore their home culture and language. 

We offer the highly regarded and well-structured IB Diploma Programme qualification with courses that are current, relevant and outward looking. We believe that the Diploma Programme complements our existing SQA courses and provides all of our pupils with a choice of curriculum to meet their needs throughout their education and into their future.

The programme aims to develop active learners with enquiring minds who maintain a breadth of subject knowledge and develop as young people both inside and outside the classroom. IB programmes are recognised and highly regarded by universities and employers around the world and ensure an increased adaptability and mobility for pupils. 

Pupils study six subjects throughout both S5 and S6, three at 'Standard' Level (similar to SQA Higher) and three at 'Higher' Level (similar to SQA Advanced Higher); each of these subjects has a coursework component. In addition to their subjects, all pupils must write an Extended Essay on a topic which interests them and also study a Theory of Knowledge course which aims to make links across the subject areas and requires pupils to question and think actively about knowledge and the world they live in. Pupils must also participate in Creativity, Action and Service activities throughout their Diploma ensuring they have a healthy and balanced lifestyle as well as giving something back to their community.

The combination of breadth and academic rigour offered by the IB Diploma programme ensures that pupils will enjoy a varied and challenging S5 and S6 that will provide them with an excellent preparation for life at university and in the wider world beyond.

More information on the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme


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