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Scotland’s school exam pass rate drops from pandemic peak

The pass rate for students sitting school exams in Scotland has fallen from the record highs of the past two years, after formal exams returned for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

In Scotland’s Higher exams — the university entrance qualification that is roughly equivalent to A-levels in England and Wales — 78.9 per cent of pupils received an A to C pass grade this year.

The attainment rate was down from 87.3 per cent last year, when teacher assessments replaced formal exams, but higher than the 74.8 per cent in 2019.

A similar pattern was recorded in Scotland’s National Fives results, which are broadly equivalent to GCSEs in England and Wales, with attainment lying between 2021 and pre-pandemic levels.

The falling pass rate is a sign of the examination system gradually returning to pre-pandemic levels after two years of grade inflation.

Fiona Robertson, chief executive of Scottish exam regulator SQA, said that while this year marked a return to exams it did not mark a “return to normal”.

In recognition of continued disruption from Covid-19, pupils taking exams this year were given additional support, such as advance notice of certain test topics and formulas sheets.

“Together, we have delivered fairness for learners while maintaining national standards — and learners can have confidence in their grades,” Robertson said.

A record proportion of Scottish students gained a place at their first choice university this year. UCAS, the universities admissions service, said 60.1 per cent of pupils gained a place at their first choice, up from the pre-pandemic level of 57.5 per cent.

Under the UK’s devolved education system, students in Scotland sit a different set of examinations to their counterparts in England and Wales. A-level results will be released on August 18 and GCSEs a week later.

Across the UK, formal exams were cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. Regulators initially sought to keep the grade distribution in line with previous years by basing results on predicted grades calculated by an algorithm.

But the system was scrapped and replaced with teacher-assessed grades after a significant number of students received lower marks than predicted by their teachers.

This method of assessment led to higher levels of attainment, which examiners this year have sought to reverse by returning the distribution of results to pre-pandemic levels.

“Throughout a year of uncertainty, young people have shown an amazing resilience in working towards attaining grades which reflect their effort and ability,” Jim Thewliss, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, said.

“All partners in the education system have been fully engaged over the past 12 months in supporting them and their teachers to achieve these grades.”


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