Scots exam passes hit record high

Education Secretary Mike Russell says exams are not getting easier

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Pass rates for Standard Grade and Higher results have hit a record high, although the number of young people sitting exams has fallen.

The figures came as almost 160,000 people across Scotland were receiving their results in the post.

The Higher pass rate stood at 75.2%, an increase of 0.5% on the previous year, with the figure for Advanced Highers at 79.3%, up 1.8%.

Standard Grade pass rates overall stayed at 98.5%.

The results came following a blunder which saw almost 30,000 pupils receive their exam results a day early, after signing up to get their grades by text message to their mobile phones.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority was forced to apologise for the error, and insisted nobody was advantaged or disadvantaged as a result of the early delivery.

Almost 36,000 pupils signed up to get their exam results electronically, by text or email.


Over the last decade there's been a marked rise in the numbers awarded good Standard Grade passes.

In 2000 83% of candidates passed at General or Credit (levels 1-4). Ten years later the pass rate was 87%.

Over the same time-span the English pass rate has been fairly steady, moving from 94% to 95%.

At the turn of the millennium 71% were awarded a good maths pass. The success rate dipped in 2007 but jumped to 74% a year later - before falling back to 72%.

In 2000 the Higher pass rate was 75%, a level which dipped for several years but recovered to 76% at the end of the decade.

Higher English has had a rocky period. It began the decade with a 75% pass rate but dropped to 62%. Secondary head teachers called on the SQA to adjust its marking system as in this subject few marks separated a narrow fail from an A grade pass. Since then the pass rate has risen to 70%.

The pass rate for maths was at 71% when the decade began, dropped to 66% then climbed to finish on 72%.

Each year the mark needed for a pass or a particular grade may fluctuate depending on how hard the exam appears to have been compared with the same exam in previous years. SQA examiners meet to scrutinise the marks and adjust them accordingly.

This analysis excludes this year's results which are provisional figures until the results of appeals come through later this year.

This year's results also saw an increase in the number of pupils studying for the new Scottish Baccalaureate qualifications in science and languages - 174, compared with 138 last year.

Now in its second year, the Baccalaureate aims to encourage high-achieving youngsters to take up the subjects and help them bridge the gap between school and college, university or work.

A total of 159,744 pupils are receiving exam certificates, down from 160,745 in 2010 - a figure which reflects falling school rolls across the country.

Scotland's chief examining officer Janet Brown said: "This year, we continue to witness modest but important increases in the attainment levels of our young people.

"For me, this reflects in no small measure, the results of the changes teachers have been making to learning and teaching approaches."

Dr Brown said one of the most notable areas was an improvement in attainment for English courses.

"Undoubtedly, these improvements have been assisted by the changes which we made this year to the assessment of courses in English - changes which better reflect the breadth of the learning which we now expect in English," she said.

Some 733,500 exams were taken across Scotland between May and June this year at nearly 550 schools and colleges, overseen by a 15,000-strong army of markers and monitors, appointed by the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

This year also saw the introduction of an externally-assessed folio of writing for Higher English students, as well as a mandatory paper on Scottish history in the Higher exam, including questions on the Wars of Independence, Treaty of Union and migration and Empire.

Education Secretary Mike Russell praised the hard work and achievement of young people across Scotland.

Mr Russell said: "We've actually got an improvement in results in Scotland, that's a testimony, at bottom, to hard work.

2011 exam pass rates

Advanced Higher: 79.3% (+1.8)

Higher: 75.2% (+0.5)

Intermediate 2: 80.3% (+1.3)

Intermediate 1: 76.0% (+3.2)

Standard Grade: 98.5% (no change)

Access 3: 91.9% (+1.1)

Access 2: 62.5% (-0.3)

Scottish Baccalaureate: 80.5%

"To young people who've worked very hard to get the results they need I'm very pleased, I congratulate them for that.

"For those who haven't done quite as well as they wanted to, don't despair, the results helpline is available to them."

Skills Development Scotland's exam results advice line, 0808 100 8000, is indeed open to provide students and parents with instant access to help, advice and information about higher education choices and next steps.

Meanwhile, Royal Mail said it was pulling out all the stops to make sure exam results arrive in the post as quickly as possible, after months of preparation by special planning teams and close working with the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

Royal Mail Scottish affairs director Ian McKay said: "This is a massive day for every pupil in Scotland, who is waiting for their results.

"All of our people, many of whom have children themselves, understand just how important this day is for families."

exam results table
Exam table

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