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Education improvement in Highland exceeds national trends

By Gregor White

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Scottish pupils did not sit exams this year but depended on coursework and teacher estimates for their results.
Scottish pupils did not sit exams this year but depended on coursework and teacher estimates for their results.

Highland Council says an improving trend of attainment is continuing in the region – demonstrated by SQA results published today.

Due to the coronavirus lockdown pupils across Scotland were unable to sit exams this year but were instead graded based on coursework and teacher's estimates of their expected performance.

Attainment in Highland schools has risen against all key indicators and improvement is also around two per cent above national levels of improvement.

Improvement at National 5 level is 3.7 per cent compared with national average improvement of 2.9 per cent.

Higher results showed a 6.2 per cent improvement (nationally 4.1 per cent) and 7.5 per cent at Advanced Higher level (nationally 5.4 per cent).

Across Highland 49.5 per cent of S4 students achieved five or more National 5 awards (up from 46.2 per cent in 2019), and 22.2 per cent of S5 students achieved five or more Highers (up from 21.9 per cent in 2019).

In S6, 38.3 per cent of candidates achieved at least one award at Advanced Higher, up 1.2 per cent on 2019.

In terms of literacy and numeracy there were also improvements in the figures.

Before taking into account pupils who achieved freestanding units, 70.6 per cent of S4 pupils achieved Level 5 literacy, an increase of four per cent on the four-year average, and 60.4 per cent of S5 pupils achieved Level 6 numeracy, up by 9.6 per cent on the four-year average.

In numeracy, 41.7 per cent of S4 pupils achieved Level 5 (up 1.6 per cent on the four-year average) and 28.1 per cent of S5 pupils achieved Level 6 (up 3.5 per cent on the four-year average).

Overall, 95.4 per cent of S4 National 5 entries led to an award, up from 93.5 per cent in 2019.

For S5 Higher entries 95.4 per cent led to an award, up from 93.1 per cent in 2019.

In S6, 93.7 per cent of all Advanced Higher entries led to an award, up from 86.3 per cent in 2019 – and 33 per cent of entries across all levels led to an "A" award, compared to 30 per cent in 2019.

Councillor John Finlayson, strategic chairman of the council's education committee, said: "These are outstanding results and everyone involved should be extremely proud of what has been achieved.

"To show an improvement across the board and indeed, a higher level of improvement in Highland than across the national average, should be a cause for celebration across the council.

"These results are a credit to all our schools and young people and highlight a positive story in terms of education improvement all across Highland.

"Our school staff have worked extremely hard in what has been a difficult year and we appreciate that effort.

"I am especially pleased with the drop in the number of 'No Awards' across the senior phase and I would like to commend the hard work of our young people and the support of their families that has led to these positive figures.

"We look forward to our schools returning next week so that our improvement journey in Highland schools can continue."

Council chief executive Donna Manson said: "I am delighted to see the vision which the council has set out for improvement in education coming through, as demonstrated across all key measures.

"This shows that the approach being taken is bearing fruit, embedding different ways of working with collaboration across all school staff.

"We are on track for very real improvement across education as a whole in Highland which translates into greater opportunities for all our children and young people.

"We have shown what excellent progress can be made and we will continue to work on education recovery and improvement in tandem."

Nicky Grant, the council's head of education, said: "After what has been a highly unusual year, it has been an anxious time as candidates, families and schools have waited for the SQA results to be published.

"We are very grateful for all of the hard work that our learners and staff put in during the 2019/20 session, and despite the difficulties that we faced following the school closures in March, we are pleased to see an improving trend in our results particularly amongst our Scottish Attainment Challenge Schools.

"It is very satisfying to see these marked improvements.

"Once our college results are added in , the picture will be even more positive.

"We are also very grateful to the SQA for putting in place a free appeals service for those situations where the final grade awarded is lower than teacher estimates.

"We believe that when the appeals have been considered we will see further improvements to our percentages.”

Ms Grant also praised the way schools have worked to improve attainment.

She said: "We have established attainment meetings with all of our schools, where head teachers outlined their plans for diversifying their curriculum and shared their targets for improved attainment and how they aimed to achieve them.

"Curriculum design and rationale remains a key focus for development in Highland with further opportunities being developed through the Highland senior phase strategy paper.

"This supports collaborative working across schools, local colleges, Highland Virtual Academy, Skills Development Scotland and our local Developing the Young Workforce partners.

"Discussion has also taken place with school SQA co-ordinators around wider accreditation which strengthens senior phase pathways in and beyond school.

"Some of this work had to be paused during lockdown but we are looking forward to returning to it, which we are confident will lead to further improvements in attainment next session."

Any young person who is disappointed with their results should contact their school for advice about whether or not an appeal will be possible.

Similarly, any young person looking for advice about their next steps should contact their school directly.

Skills Development Scotland also has a dedicated helpline.

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