Education and Schools

Education provision, most of which is the responsibility of the Shetland Islands Council’s Education Service, spans a range from pre-school to degree-level study, with extensive adult-learning opportunities.

The Council offers education from nursery level. Most primary schools have nursery classes and Council-funded nursery places are also available in several pre-school centres run by independent providers. Nursery sessions may be held in the morning or afternoon or both depending on the local provision and normally last 2½ hours. In some cases, longer morning sessions are offered, the extra cost being met by parents. Other provision, including day care, child-minding, private nurseries and out of school care, is available.

A network of 23 primary schools covers the islands. Some rural primary schools are very small, employing only one or two teachers, and class sizes in these also tend to be small. After Primary 7, children move up to secondary school. This will usually be their nearest one, but it is sometimes possible for a child to be accommodated at another secondary school if a parent requests it.

Four-year secondary schools, which offer courses up to Standard Grade, operate in Unst, Yell, Whalsay, Aith and Sandwick. Students wishing to proceed to Higher Grade study move, at the beginning of their fifth year, from one of these to one of the two six-year secondary schools in Brae or Lerwick.

The qualifications obtained in Shetland schools are those recognised by the Scottish Qualifications Authority. For most students, this means taking Standard Grade examinations in the fourth year of secondary school and Higher Grade examinations in their fifth or sixth year. Standard Grade (or Intermediate) in Scotland is equivalent to GCSE in England and Wales. However, Higher Grade in Scotland is a one-year course and it is Advanced Higher that is directly equivalent to an A-level in England and Wales. For a fuller explanation of the qualifications available in Shetland or Scotland and their equivalents in England and Wales, please see this guide (pdf; 268kb).

Shetland College, in Lerwick, offers a range of vocational and academic subjects. In Scalloway, the NAFC Marine Centre provides training in marine-related subjects, for example navigation, fishing technology and marine engineering. Both these colleges are part of the University of the Highlands and Islands, meaning that it’s possible to study in Shetland to degree level.

More than 200 courses are offered for adult learners and they attract around 1,400 participants. Examples of the subjects on offer include German, Spanish, Shetland dialect, traditional fiddle, painting and drawing, web design and African drumming. Adult literacy classes are also offered.

English classes for speakers of other languages are available and these can be linked with Citizenship classes. The Shetland Library stocks adults’ books in a variety of languages, together with some dual language books aimed at young children. The national Bookstart scheme is popular. Two mobile libraries serve every part of Shetland except for Fair Isle, Foula and Papa Stour and there are also library collections in schools and other community facilities.

Find out more:

  • About local schools from the Shetland Islands Council’s Education Service
  • Inspection reports on Shetland schools are available on the HMIE website
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