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The pass rate for final exams in Scottish secondary schools fell this year, but remained higher than pre-Covid pandemic levels.
The results published by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) on Tuesday signalled that examiners had moved away from the “generous” grading system used in the wake of coronavirus, according to the regulator.
The proportion of pupils awarded A to C passes at Higher was 77.1 per cent this year, down from 78.9 per cent in 2022. But the pass rate was higher than the 74.8 per cent recorded in 2019.
There was a similar trend with the National 5 qualifications, which are equivalent to GCSEs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Passes in this category dropped two percentage points to 78.8 per cent from last year, but were little changed from the 78.2 per cent registered in 2019.
The rate for Advanced Highers, usually taken in the sixth year of secondary school, was 79.8 per cent, compared with 81.3 per cent in 2022 and 79.4 per cent in 2019.
More than 140,000 pupils received grades for National 4s and 5s, Highers and Advanced Highers on Tuesday. This year’s cohort is the last group whose exams were suspended due to the pandemic, during which some schools closed for a period.
Scotland’s results came a week before the release of top A-level grades in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In 2022, top grades fell from the record highs of the previous two years, as exam assessments returned to pre-pandemic standards.
The SQA said it had taken a “sensitive” approach to grading this year in recognition of the continued disruption to education, marking a shift away from the “generous” approach to assessment last year when exams returned in full for the first time.
Fiona Robertson, chief executive of Scotland’s exams regulator, described this year’s results as “strong”.
She said they did not “mark a return to normal for learners and educators” but were “another significant and positive step on the path back to normal awarding, following the years of disruption to learning and teaching caused by the pandemic”.
Scotland’s results also highlighted persisting disparities in performance between the wealthiest and poorest students. The government of former first minister Nicola Sturgeon was criticised for its failure to close the gap despite Sturgeon calling it her “defining mission”.
The A to C attainment gap between the most deprived and least deprived pupils at National 5 level was 15.6 percentage points, up from 14.6 percentage points last year, according to the qualifications regulator.
“While we know that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds, these results show that the gap in attainment levels between the least and most deprived areas remains narrower than it was in 2019,” said Scotland’s education secretary Jenny Gilruth.