TENS of thousands of school pupils across Scotland will receive their exam results today, with the pass rate for Highers increasing for the seventh year in a row.
The Higher pass rate has risen from 76.9 per cent last year to 77.4 per cent, with the proportion of students passing Standard Grades, Intermediates and Advanced Highers also on the rise.
However, the pass rate for science subjects fell, and there was also a drop in the number of those passing Higher maths, despite suggestions this year’s paper had been “dumbed down”.
The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) said the rising pass rate overall reflected the “hard work and commitment” of candidates, but critics said the whole exam system risked being undermined by the perception that the papers were getting easier.
In total, 150,986 candidates sat a total of 720,000 exams at Scotland’s schools and colleges this year, down from 158,908 candidates in 2012.
This year’s pass rate for Standard Grades, which will next year be replaced by new qualifications in line with Curriculum for Excellence, increased by 0.1 percentage points to 98.9 per cent, while the pass rate for Intermediate levels one and two increased to 77.8 and 81.8 per cent respectively. The biggest jump in passes was in Advanced Highers, where the pass rate increased by two percentage points to 82.1 per cent.
Dr Janet Brown, the SQA’s chief executive, said: “The increased number of courses and awards achieved reflects the tremendous amount of hard work and commitment by candidates across Scotland and the value placed on qualifications in what continues to be a challenging economic environment.”
Youth employment minister Angela Constance said: “Record pass rates in a set of rigorously assessed exams confirm Scotland’s strong record in attainment and I wish the class of 2013 the very best of luck in their next steps, be it another year in school, or moving on to college, university, training or employment.”
While the pass rate rose in key subjects such as Higher English (73.9 per cent) and Higher history (84.8 per cent), it fell in biology (70.3 per cent), chemistry (77 per cent) and physics (76.2 per cent).
Earlier this year, controversy surrounded the Higher maths exam after a number of senior examiners left the SQA following an internal dispute.
Their departure was followed by comments from Clive Chamber, a former principal examiner of maths, who said this year’s paper had been “dumbed down”.
However, despite their concerns, the pass rate for maths actually dipped this year, from 73.3 per cent to 72.5 per cent.
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of Scotland’s largest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland, said: “While it is can be iniquitous to compare exam results year on year, owing to variable factors, it is clear that Scottish pupils have delivered a strong set of results in their exams this year.
“This year also marks the final, impressive, set of Standard Grade results, and we hope that the successor national qualifications will be as well received by pupils, parents, employers and tertiary education providers. Teachers are continuing to work hard on preparing for the new qualifications, although a number of issues around resourcing and funding for new materials have been raised by schools across Scotland.
“The Scottish Government, local authorities and the relevant national agencies must address these issues if the new national qualifications are to be delivered smoothly in all parts of the country.”
However, Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said there was concern about exams becoming easier. “People find it hard to believe that, while employers complain about a lack of basic skills from school-leavers, exam performances are at an all-time high” she said.
“We have to do all we can to make sure these exams are suitably rigorous. Without that, the whole system risks being undermined, and our pupils will be overtaken by those from other countries in an increasingly global marketplace.”
Kezia Dugdale, Labour’s education spokeswoman, said: “It is always easy for commentators to criticise exam success. But the pupils, teachers and families all know the effort and months of work that have gone into getting these results.”
Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said: “The SQA results published today reflect very positively on the efforts of the young people receiving the awards, as well as the efforts of their teachers and parents in supporting them.
“This is a tense time for thousands of families up and down the country, and hopefully the vast majority will be happy with the results they have achieved.”