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Pass rates increase as school pupils get exam results in year of no exams

Exam desks - Image credit: Eric E Castro via Flickr

Pass rates increase as school pupils get exam results in year of no exams

School pupils in Scotland will find out their exam results today at the end of a difficult school year due to coronavirus.

This year's results are based on estimates from teachers taken from prelim results and classwork after the COVID-19 pandemic forced exams to be cancelled.

There has been controversy over this year’s assignment of grades after it was announced that the SQA would alter teacher’s grades to fit national averages based on a school’s past performance, leading to a possible disadvantage for pupils in schools that have recently improved their performance or pupils who have performed above average for their school.

However, appeals will be free this year, unlike normally, where there is a charge, so schools can contest grades they feel are unfair.

Statistics from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) show that the pass rates in this year are higher than in 2019.

The National 5 pass rate was 81.1 per cent in 2020, the Higher pass rate was 78.9 per cent and the Advanced Higher pass rate was 84.9 per cent.

In 2019 the National 5 pass rate was 78.2 per cent, the Higher pass rate was 74.8 per cent and the Advanced Higher pass rate was 79.4 per cent.

Education secretary John Swinney said: “In the face of an incredibly tough few months for pupils and teachers, we can today celebrate the achievements of all learners.

“Young people have received awards that recognise their hard work and allow them to move onto the next stage in their lives.

“Scottish exams have never before been cancelled.

“I am immensely grateful to all teachers and lecturers who worked incredibly hard to assess achievement this year, and to the SQA for developing the certification model – without either, young people could not have received qualifications.

“There was a rise in pass rates at National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher.

“While comparisons with previous years need to be considered carefully, given the disruption to learning this year this is a good set of results for our learners.

“I am pleased to see the number of skills-based awards, that teach vital knowledge and experience valued by employers, rise by 18 per cent to 64,221.

“This year’s results also show there has been a narrowing of the attainment gap at grades A-C between the most and least disadvantaged young people, which is now narrower this year for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher than last year, or indeed the average for the last four years.”

Swinney also said that moderation as essential to ensure the integrity of the grades, but that the majority of teacher estimates had not been altered.

Around a quarter of results have been changed by the SQA, the vast majority of them to a lower grade.

Swinney said: “All exam systems rely on an essential process known as moderation to uphold standards.

“This ensures an A grade is the same in every part of the country, making the system fair for everyone, and across all years.  

“As the national exams body, only the SQA can maintain the consistency and the integrity of our qualifications.

“This year, by necessity, the moderation model is different and has been subject to additional scrutiny.

“Teachers and lecturers applied their judgements against national standards and today’s data shows that three out of every four grade estimates were not adjusted by the SQA.

“133,000 entries were adjusted from the initial estimate, around a quarter of all entries.

“6.9 per cent of those estimates were adjusted up and 93.1 per cent were adjusted down, with 96 per cent of all adjusted grades changed by one grade.

“Without moderation, pass rates at grades A-C compared to last year would have increased by 10.4 percentage points for National 5, by 14 percentage points for Higher and by 13.4 percentage points for Advanced Higher – annual change never been seen in Scottish exam results.

“I know teachers and lecturers will always want the best for their pupils, but I believe that teachers have acted professionally.

“I know that learners who did not achieve what they were expecting will be disappointed, however the SQA will be operating a free appeals process this year.

The appeals process is an integral part of awarding this year and will play an important role in giving schools and colleges the opportunity to present evidence in support of teacher and lecturer estimates.”

The SQA has now published a report on its methodology, something the Scottish Conservatives had been calling for.

Ahead of publication, Scottish Conservative shadow education secretary Jamie Greene said: “This week, thousands of students receiving their results are potentially facing an uncertain future because of the impact of COVID and school closures on their final grades.

"Whilst we supported the decision in March to close schools and cancel exams, there are still many unanswered questions over the specific methodology the SQA is using to awards these grades and how national averages impacts that process.

“The appeals process must be fair, transparent and equipped to deal with potentially thousands of cases in the coming days, to help minimise disruption for the many students hoping to attend college and university in September.”

Scottish Labour has also raised concerns about the appeals process, in particular the disparity in appeals between state and independent schools in previous years.

In every year since 2014, the percentage of appeals at independent schools has been at least double – and often almost three times – the percentage of appeals at state schools.

Scottish Labour submitted a freedom of information request to the SQA, asking for the percentage of results appealed in every previous academic year since 2013, broken down into percentages for the state and independent sectors.

But the SQA has postponed the production of some of its statistics and outputs for 2019 until after this year's results are published.

Scottish Labour education spokesperson Iain Gray said: “After refusing to disclose the methodology for moderation of results until after they are released this year, the SQA is now dodging scrutiny again by refusing to tell us the disparity between state and independent school appeals rates last year. 

“Given the disparity has been so large in previous years, it is astonishing that the SQA does not routinely compare these figures. 

“Tomorrow's results have been widely predicted to lead to an enormous number of appeals, but the SQA's continued shroud of secrecy will make it more difficult to accurately assess the SNP government's shambolic handling of education, as well as the impact of COVID-19. 

“We now have clear evidence to confirm what we have long expected – that appeal charges are exacerbating the attainment gap. 

“The fact this disparity in appeals has existed for so long demonstrates once again that Scotland's education system faced major inequalities well before these were exacerbated by the pandemic.”

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