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National Schools Programme

Based on a recommendation in SFC's Review of Coherent Provision and Sustainability, and in alignment with Scotland’s Programme for Government 2021-22, we launched the National Schools Programme as a resource to strengthen pathways for Senior Phase pupils from under-represented backgrounds looking to pursue higher education.

Widening access

The National Schools Programme works closely with experts across universities, colleges, and schools to unify existing, successful projects into a cohesive national approach to the delivery of targets identified in A Blueprint for Fairness: Final Report of the Commission on Widening Access.

The National Schools Programme aims to encourage pupils to apply to and access Higher Education through a mix of activities informed by our four foundational pillars:

  • Impartial information, advice, guidance, and support.
  • A visit to a campus or a residential experience.
  • A recognised Higher Education or top-up-type course to develop the key skills that will allow students to thrive in university. Successful completion, often accompanied by SCQF credit points, can lead to adjusted entry requirements to Higher Education.
  • Specialist support regarding access to the high-demand professions.

The programmes that deliver the work of the National Schools Programme are:

Schools for Higher Education Programme

The Schools for Higher Education Programme (SHEP) supports regional collaborations between schools, colleges, and universities to increase progression to higher education in both colleges and universities. Through digital and in-person engagement, SHEP partners work with targeted pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to share impartial information, advice, guidance, and support regarding higher education.

Further information on the work of the individual programmes is available:

  • ASPIRENorth – Aberdeenshire, Highlands, Moray, Orkney and Shetland.
  • LEAPS – Borders, Edinburgh, Forth Valley, the Lothians.
  • LIFT OFF – Dundee and Angus, Fife, Perthshire.
  • FOCUS West – Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, the West.

Showcase: Lift Off 2 Success Graduation Ceremony

Access to High Demand Professions

The Access to High Demand Professions (AHDP) programme offers specific support to pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds with an interest in those degree areas where demand for places is high.

AHDP consists of two programmes: Reach supports students pursuing law, medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry, or economics; while Access to Creative Education Scotland (ACES) focuses on degrees related to art, design, and architecture.

Further information on the work of the individual programmes:



Showcase: ACES Architects in the Making workshop

Participant in the Architects in the Making workshopThis practical workshop was led by Mackintosh School of Architecture staff and helped pupils from widening participation backgrounds develop skills in model making, architectural drawing, analysis, and photography. The session took place within the Mackintosh School of Architecture building at the Glasgow School of Art, and gave pupils in S5 and S6 from 22 schools, across 12 local authorities, a chance to see studio, lecture and gallery spaces within the department, and work on a University level architectural brief to analyse a space, develop a proposal and present an outcome. At the end of the workshop participants had a selection 2D and 3D pieces; photographs of which can be used in their digital portfolios when applying to university.

Text and photo provided by Shona Paul, ACES.

Transitions Programme

The Transitions Programme is exclusive to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) and aims to provide funded training for students from disadvantaged communities who wish to pursue the performing or production arts.

Joining the National Schools Programme in 2021, the Transitions Programme offers funded courses and coaching for talented individuals from the 20% most deprived post code areas and Care Experienced young people to prepare them for the rigorous audition, interview, and intense training for RCS’s undergraduate programmes. Unlike the other programmes focusing on Senior Phase pupils, the Transition Programme supports students as young as 7 years old in music and dance, 15 and older for musical theatre and 16 years and older for other performing and production art forms.

Advanced Higher Hub

The Advanced Higher Hub, based at Glasgow Caledonian University, offers Senior Phase pupils the opportunity to study Advanced Higher Subjects that are not available at their own schools. The Hub also provides students in an immersive transition experience to introduce prospective students to the opportunities and challenges of student life.