Recent experimental and clinical studies have provided diverse insight into the mechanisms of human focal seizure initiation and propagation. Often these findings exist at different scales of observation, and are not reconciled into a common understanding. Here we develop a new, multiscale mathematical model of cortical electric activity with realistic mesoscopic connectivity. Relating the model dynamics to experimental and clinical findings leads us to propose three classes of dynamical mechanisms for the onset of focal seizures in a unified framework. These three classes are: (i) globally induced focal seizures; (ii) globally supported focal seizures; (iii) locally induced focal seizures. Using model simulations we illustrate these onset mechanisms and show how the three classes can be distinguished. Specifically, we find that although all focal seizures typically appear to arise from localised tissue, the mechanisms of onset could be due to either localised processes or processes on a larger spatial scale. We conclude that although focal seizures might have different patient-specific aetiologies and electrographic signatures, our model suggests that dynamically they can still be classified in a clinically useful way. Additionally, this novel classification according to the dynamical mechanisms is able to resolve some of the previously conflicting experimental and clinical findings.