Pass rate falls slightly as Scottish pupils receive results

Pass rate falls slightly as Scottish pupils receive results
school pupilsimage sourcePA Media

The pass rate for Scottish school qualifications dropped slightly in 2021 - but scores were still well above pre-pandemic levels.

Formal exams were cancelled for the second year running due to Covid-19, with grades based on teacher judgement.

The percentage of pupils achieving A to C grades in their Highers fell from 89.3% in 2020 to 87.3% in 2021.

But that total is still significantly above the 75% pass rate from 2019, and a record high number of awards overall.

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said pupils had delivered "a strong set of results, achieved under extraordinary circumstances".

A total of 90.2% of Advanced Higher candidates achieved a pass, down from 93.1% in 2020, while National 5 scores dropped from 89% to 85.8%.

Ministers said the attainment gap between pupils from more deprived and more affluent backgrounds had widened slightly compared to 2020, but was narrower than in 2019.

Senior pupils sat a series of assessments in May following disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Teachers then decided their grades and informed students before the end of term, and these grades were made official on Tuesday.

The results reflect the highest number of Higher passes since at least 1999, and a record high percentage of entries at National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses resulting in an A grade.

A total of 47.6% of Higher candidates achieved an A grade, compared to 40% in 2020 and 28.3% in 2019, when traditional exams were used.

In Advanced Higher courses, 51% of pupils got an A, up from 46.3% in 2020 and 31.8% in 2019.

Ms Somerville said "significant challenges" had been thrown at young people in "one of the toughest academic years we've ever known".

She added: "Learners can be confident that their awards are fair, consistent and credible. Indeed, industry representatives have made it clear how much they value this year's qualifications.

"As in any year, the results highlight some areas for us to focus attention on. Closing the poverty-related attainment gap and ensuring every young person has the chance to fulfil their potential remains central to our work."

exam paperimage source
Formal exams were cancelled for the second year in a row

There were more than 200,000 entries for Higher and Advanced Higher courses this year.

Exams for those qualifications were , about two months after the

Ministers said the final grades would be based on "teacher judgement supported by assessment".

But the process was criticised by some parents and pupils, who described the assessments as

The Scottish government had faced anger from pupils, parents and teachers over the previous results system, which was introduced after lockdown in 2020.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) initially drew up grades using teacher estimates for each pupil which were then moderated using results from previous years.

However, this sparked an outcry after 125,000 results were downgraded, with claims the moderation system unfairly penalised children at schools which had historically not performed as well.

The government subsequently .

Deputy First Minister John Swinney, who was education secretary at the time, said 2021 awards would "not be given or taken away on the basis of a statistical model or on the basis of a school's past performance".

classroom distancingimage source

The government has already announced , with the SQA to be replaced with a new agency overseeing the curriculum.

The Scottish Greens said the decision to cancel the exams in 2021 was taken "far too late".

The party's education spokesman Ross Greer said: "The Scottish government and SQA should start this year's results day with an apology to Scotland's young people for the entirely avoidable levels of stress and anxiety they were put through.

"The onslaught of de-facto exams after Easter wasn't a necessary requirement, it was the result of a near-total failure to plan for the effects of Covid disruption earlier in the school year."

'Double the disruption'

The Scottish Conservatives said the results suggested pupils had been "marked more harshly than last year".

Education spokesman Oliver Mundell said: "They have faced double the disruption of last year's pupils, who themselves had their learning experience upturned, yet the signs show that has not been fully factored in."

He added: "Pupils seem to have faced a postcode lottery. We warned this could happen when it became clear that young people would be sitting exams under inconsistent conditions, with wide variations in difficulty from council to council and even school to school."

school pupils in classimage source

Meanwhile, Scottish business leaders have assured school leavers that their qualifications will be valued as much as in any other year.

More than 100 employers and business groups, including the Scottish Retail Consortium, Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Tourism Alliance, have backed a new Young Person's Guarantee.

It aims to provide everyone aged between 16 and 24 with the opportunity of a job, apprenticeship, further or higher education, training programme or volunteering.

Group spokesman Sandy Begbie said: "My experience is widespread employer admiration for the fortitude and resilience young people have shown throughout all the challenges faced in the past year, and a solid commitment to create opportunities to help shape futures."

Scotland's children's commissioner said the country "should celebrate everything that young people have achieved in the past two years of living through a pandemic".

Bruce Adamson said: "Children and young people have been incredible. The right to education is about ensuring that they develop their minds, body and talents to their fullest potential and the resilience, strength and courage that young people have demonstrated these past two years deserves the highest accolade."

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