Labour calls for investigation into exam results trend

Scottish Labour has called for a Holyrood investigation into pupils' falling attainment levels and attacked John Swinney's record as Education Secretary.

Analysis indicates a decline in pupil attainment  an issue for John Swinney, below, to address. Photograph: Getty

Writing in Scotland on Sunday today, Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said a probe was needed after analysis of results showed attainment at Higher level had fallen for the third year in a row.

Results published by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) for 135,000 pupils showed the A-C attainment rate for Highers has fallen slightly to 76.8 per cent, from 77 per cent last year and 77.2 per cent in 2016.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Analysis of last week’s data by Professor Jim Scott of Dundee University also revealed falling attainment at National 3 pass level when compared with the old standard grade.

Scott’s attainment measurement took account of the fact that in 2013 pupils passed 60,000 Standard Grades at level 3, compared to 16,138 “National 3” passes in 2018. He calculated overall attainment at standard grade equivalent level was down by 33.8 per cent.

Gray said Swinney “should ask the Education Committee to launch an investigation into those worrying trends in exam results, and if he will not, they should investigate anyway.“

In his article Gray also renews his call for the suspension of primary one standardised tests following reports that they distress youngsters. He criticises the £400 million slashing of school budgets and calls for action to fill Scotland’s 700 teacher vacancies,

Responding to Gray’s article, Swinney said: “Our focus is on a young person’s achievement at the end of their senior phase and the long-term trend shows a greater proportion of young people staying on at school beyond S4. Young people are gaining a broader range of qualifications, with higher passes remaining stable, and the proportion of young people leaving school with qualifications has increased in recent years.

“Assessments are not a new concept and the vast majority of local authorities have been carrying them out for years. The Scottish National Standardised Assessments ensure for the first time, that all schools undertake the same assessments, providing consistency and an important means for teachers to identify children’s next steps in learning. That is especially valuable in early years if we are to continue to close the attainment gap.

“The Scottish Government is committing £750m during the course of this parliament to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap and ensure every child in Scotland has an equal chance to succeed – including another £120m Pupil Equity Funding direct to schools this year.

“Local authorities are directly responsible for setting school budgets and the latest figures show that local authority spend on education increased from £4.95 billion in 2015-16 to £5.07bn in 2016-17 – a real terms increase of 0.3 per cent. Councils can choose to use their powers to increase council tax, by up to three per cent, to increase funds at their disposal to support local services.”