TENS of thousands of school students across Scotland will receive their exam results today, with the pass rate falling slightly for the first time in eight years.
The Higher pass rate stands at 77.1 per cent this year compared with 77.4 per cent in 2013, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) said.
However, the number of students passing their Highers increased from 141,257 last year to 147,899 in 2014 – a figure the Scottish Government hailed as a “record number”.
A total of 191,850 Highers were sat across all subjects over the last year – an increase of more than 9,000 on 2013.
This year’s exams results are the first time the new National 4 and 5 qualifications have been awarded after they were brought in as part of the Scottish Government’s Curriculum for Excellence reforms, with the bulk of pupils in S4 now sitting these instead of Standard Grades.
The pass rate for the National 4 was 93 per cent, with 114,173 passes recorded by the SQA.
Meanwhile, pupils achieved 173,131 passes at National 5 level, resulting in a success rate of 81.1 per cent. For Intermediate levels 1 and 2, the pass rate dropped, going from 77.8 per cent and 81.8 per cent respectively last year, to 73.2 per cent and 77.9 per cent.
Dr Janet Brown, SQA’s chief executive and Scotland’s chief examining officer, said today’s results were a reflection of the “hard work and commitment” of students as she claimed the new qualifications had broadened the “quality of learning”.
However, the pass rate for maths fell slightly from 72.5 per cent to 72.1 per cent over the last year. There was also a decline in the Higher pass rate for English, with a fall from 75 per cent in 2013 to 73.9 per cent last year.
Teaching unions said schools had been forced to deliver the changes to subjects at a time of squeezed budgets and with staff taking on heavier workloads.
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS, said: “Whilst schools will take time to examine the detail of the data closely, it is gratifying to see the positive attainment rates in the new National qualifications, particularly in light of the challenging circumstances in which these new courses were introduced.”
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said: “The excellent results show schools and teachers have pulled out all the stops to ensure that despite the challenges and difficulties, students have been supported through the reforms and been able to achieve their best.
“However, this has been achieved in a context where the poorly thought through implementation of the reforms has resulted in ever-increasing bureaucracy and excessive workload for teachers.”
Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Mary Scanlon claimed schools had not been offered enough support to implement the new exam subjects over the past year.
She said: “Teachers and pupils deserve great credit for these results, particularly considering the circumstances under which they were sat.
“In certain cases schools got no support while implementing these new exams, which is completely unacceptable.”
Scotland’s schools minister Dr Alasdair Allan said the results represented a “significant step forward” in the improvement of standards in education.
Dr Allan said: “The fact there has been such a marked increase in the number of Highers attained is a real success story. Students are now sitting a greater number of Highers, demonstrating real ambition and aspiration among young learners.”