Page last updated at 11:37 GMT, Wednesday, 5 August 2009 12:37 UK

Exam passes reach record levels

Most subjects, including languages and science, showed improvements

Higher and Standard Grade pass rates for Scottish pupils have reached record levels, the Scottish Qualifications Authority has confirmed.

Nearly 160,000 school pupils across Scotland have been receiving their examination results.

The numbers receiving the highest grades also went up.

Universities Scotland said those with good grades would get a higher education place even though competition was likely to be steeper this year.

Nearly 30,000 students have been receiving their grades by e-mail or text message.

Certificates are being sent to 159,901 pupils this year, up from 158,627 in 2008.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) said the pass rate for those sitting Highers rose 0.8 percentage point to 74.2%. For Standard Grade pupils, 98.5% received a pass, up from 98% in 2008.


David and Jennifer from St Vincent's School for the Deaf receive their results

The total number of exams being sat overall was down by 8,225, with the biggest falls in Standard Grade. The drop was put down to falling school rolls and more pupils taking Intermediate and Access qualifications instead.

No matter what anyone says, it is not easier for students nowadays, if anything its harder.

Maggie Ferguson, Perthshire

However, the numbers sitting Higher and Advanced Higher exams increased to the highest level for five years.

In total, Higher pupils sat exams in 67 subjects. Those achieving a pass in English increased slightly from 68.3% to 68.9%. In maths, the pass rate fell from 71.6% to 69.7%.

Overall 24% of entries achieved the highest A grade.

Pass results for Standard Grade English remained static at 98.7%, while the number of passes for maths hit 99.3%, up from 98.7%.

Just under half of the entries (46%) were awarded a credit level (grades 1 and 2).

Despite the increases, there were falls in the numbers achieving passes in Standard Grade subjects such as construction, Gaelic and French, which fell 6.4%, 3.1% and 2.1% respectively.

Seonag MacKinnon
Seonag MacKinnon
BBC Scotland Education Correspondent

It's claimed record pass rates indicate exams have been dumbed down. And that coursework not carried out in strict exam conditions may be one reason for good marks.

The charges are angrily dismissed by education leaders who say success is down to hard work by pupils and staff.

It will come as a relief to many pupils that few who receive a decent clutch of passes today will fail to win a place at Scottish universities.

Partly because of a falling numbers of school leavers in recent years, there appears to be spare capacity, despite a 5.9% rise in applications this year.

The bigger problem is for those seeking places at further education colleges. In May the sector reported demand was up 35%.

School leavers seeking jobs may also have a tough time even with good exam passes. This age group always has a particularly difficult time finding work in recessions.

Scottish Education Secretary, Fiona Hyslop, said the results were a testament to the abilities of Scotland's youngsters and a cause for optimism in the nation's economic future.

She said: "These results clearly demonstrate that our young people have high ambitions and are achieving success.

"By continuing to support Scotland's reputation for skills and learning, today's results will help to make Scotland the place to do business even in these difficult economic times."

David Watt executive director of the Institute of Directors Scotland said: "One would hope educational standards are rising but international surveys suggest standards here are falling.

"It does indicate that if we want to raise the bar a bit higher exams need to be a bit tougher."

Welcoming the government's plan to scrap Standard Grades Mr Watt said: "I appreciate a pass can represent a great deal of effort by some pupils.

"But if over 99% pass maths, the exam doesn't have any credibility. It doesn't help them get a job."

Mr Watt, a former teacher, said increased success at Higher could be down to greater encouragement to take more than one year to study for the exam.

The rise in pass rates is likely to increase the numbers applying to continue their studies.

Applications to Scottish universities are up almost 6% on this time last year as the economic slowdown hits the jobs market.

But pressure for places may not be more intense this year as the rise in applications does not match the drop the previous year - 8% to 199,700.

A spokesman for Universities Scotland said: "While it will be more competitive this year, if candidates are persistent we expect them to get a place at a good university.

"The situation isn't clear yet.

"But if any candidates are unsuccessful it is likely to be in the hundreds not thousands."

Advice event

A spokesman for teaching union, the EIS, said: "While it is always difficult to compare trends in examinations results due to varying levels of difficulty in exam papers and the variable of different pupil cohorts year on year, it is clear that Scottish pupils have delivered a very solid set of results in their examinations this year."

Lecturers and student leaders have called on the Scottish Government to follow England's lead in creating extra places in further education.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said it was doing much for applicants to both colleges and universities.

But she added: "In relation to places overall, in any given year there will always be more applicants than there are places."

An SQA helpline has been set up for students wishing to discuss their results. The number is 0845 278 8080.

BBC Radio 1's Surgery team, with Chris Moyles producer Aled Hadyn Jones, will be at the ABC in Glasgow where experts will be on hand to offer career advice to youngsters who have just received their results.

The event takes place from 1000-1300 BST on Wednesday.

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