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Unexpected exam figures among Highland pupils welcomed by Highland Council

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HIGHLAND pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds recorded a higher pass rate than those from the least deprived areas for the first time.

According to the 2021 SQA attainment report, 95.02 per cent of S4 pupils from the most deprived areas in Highland achieved an A-D pass at Level 5, compared to 94.18 per cent of those from the least deprived areas.

Education officers and councillors welcomed this progress, with some members suggesting that blended learning – a combination of remote online learning and classroom teaching – may have helped to level the playing field during the pandemic.

Councillor Linda Munro said she “wasn’t quite convinced” when she saw the emerging statistics, because it was counter-intuitive to expectations.

However, she was impressed by a visit to a high school in her ward.

She added: “They’re now looking at blended learning for their pupils who need additional support for learning. They find it less stressful and less difficult.”

Overall, the SQA results showed modest improvements in most areas, though education bosses cautioned against making comparisons until the full benchmarking data was available.

However, councillors observed that there were no great surprises in the results.

“I’m encouraged to see that these results are not widely out of sync,” said councillor Emma Knox.

“There’s been a lot of discourse in the media about grade inflation but from this report it looks like the ACM (alternative certification model) got it about right.”

Education officers agreed with councillor Andrew Baxter’s plea that the committee sees “both the light and the shade” in Highland attainment.

“Not only am I interested in closing the attainment gap here in Highland but we should be looking at how we close the attainment gap compared to the rest of Scotland as well,” he said.

“One of the fundamental problems is a lack of ambition within our communities, where in the past, children have been able to go into full-time employment… and that’s no longer necessarily the case. I’d like us to focus on those structural problems.”

Education executive chief officer Nicky Grant had highlighted earlier in the meeting that the number of school leavers moving on to positive destinations compared favourably with national figures, but that was set against a challenging set of circumstances for employers across Highland as the pandemic took its toll.

The council is working on providing more opportunities for young people to secure work and training.

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