Pass rate for Highers rises again amid suspicions of dumbing down

Mike Russell, right, said young people's academic results deserved to be celebrated. Picture: Wattie Cheung
Mike Russell, right, said young people's academic results deserved to be celebrated. Picture: Wattie Cheung
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TENS of thousands of pupils across Scotland will receive their exam results today, with the pass rate for Highers increasing for the sixth year in a row.

The Higher pass rate has increased from 75.2 per cent last year to a record 76.9 per cent, while the proportion passing Advanced Highers and Standard Grades has also risen.

The country’s largest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), said the results showed the exam system remained “robust”, but the Institute of Directors (IoD), which represents business leaders, said qualifications were at risk of being “devalued”.

The figures came as it emerged that pupils who fail to get their expected grades face an uphill battle in securing a place at a Scottish university. While leading universities such as Edinburgh and St Andrews rarely take part in clearing, pressure on places means many other institutions are this year unlikely to offer last-minute places to those who have missed out on their first-choice courses.

Meanwhile, Robert Gordon University (RGU) in Aberdeen yesterday found itself at the centre of the latest in a series of gaffes affecting Scotland’s exam results after e-mailing 370 people congratulating them on securing a place – the day before they had received their grades.

Nearly 160,000 teenagers across Scotland will receive their results today.

Students sat fewer Standard Grades this year, 319,986 compared with 386,857 four years ago, as the process of phasing out the exams to make way for the new National Qualifications continued.

Education secretary Mike Russell said: “I would like to congratulate Scottish pupils on their endeavours in 2012. This has been another successful year, which is testament to the hard work that pupils have put into their courses.

“Behind today’s statistics are thousands of individual young people, each with their own set of results and ambitions for the future. Today is a day to 
celebrate their achievements.”

But David Watt, chairman of the IoD in Scotland, said rising pass rates had led to Highers being “devalued” in the eyes of some employers.

“The bottom line is that for a qualification to be valid and valued, there needs to be a reasonable failure rate,” he said. “The big thing at the moment is that the exams don’t differentiate one student from another. If qualifications don’t make them extraordinary, then kids will have challenges in getting employment.”

Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith added: “Nothing should detract from these pupils’ success. Notwithstanding this success, I am also very aware of the public suspicion that there has been some ‘dumbing down’ in certain aspects of the exam system.

“Employers especially find it hard to understand how there can be a continuous rate of improvement every year in all the overall pass rates, both north and south of the Border, when they are also finding that there is a lack of knowledge and basic skills amongst graduates and new recruits.”