Exam pass rates across the north and north east dropped compared to last year – but were still better than pre-Covid.
The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) released a breakdown of exam results which showed how each local authority had fared.
Only the Western Isles and Moray can boast an increase over their 2020 pass rates in Highers. Argyll and Bute recorded a 10-point improvement on National 5s.
None of the council areas outperformed their 2020 results for Advanced Highers.
And in most council areas, a further breakdown shows a shift toward the extremities – a higher rate of As but also Ds – at all three levels. Some council areas saw as much as a 10-point bump in A grades among students.
What are the 2021 exam results?
Students proved their flexibility this year, adapting to their second new exam system in as many years. The 2021 Alternative Certification Model (ACM) used a combination of coursework and teacher-made assessments to determine student exam results.
In 2020, there were no official exams. Instead, teachers’ judgment was the main source for grades. But after frustration from parents and students about a huge number of downgraded results, the SQA brought back an assessment-based format for 2021.
So, how did students across the north and north east perform this year?
Every local authority in the region recorded higher pass rates than in any of the two years prior to the pandemic. The Western Isles led the way in National 5 (90.3%), Advanced (93.1%) and Advanced Higher (94.2%) pass rates.
Aberdeenshire students had the lowest pass rate on National 5s at 81.4%, while Shetland brought up the rear in Highers (80.9%) and Advanced Highers (82.2%).
But most councils saw a clear leap in the rate of A grades among students. In Orkney, As increased by more than 10% on Highers, while Highland, Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire saw more than 5% more As each.
What are the councils saying?
The SQA is scheduled to be disbanded and replaced in the coming years. But the organisation still oversaw the 2021 exam process.
A spokesman said that the goal of this year’s model was centred on the belief that “teachers and lecturers know their learners and their individual circumstances best.”
He praised students and teachers for responding to the challenges of changing circumstances throughout the year.
Western Isles praises hard work and commitment
Western Isles senior education officer Donald Macleod said that students shouldn’t be judged more harshly than in previous years.
Instead, they should be recognised for their adaptability, he said.
“We do recognise and celebrate this very positive rate of attainment for our young people and acknowledge the hard work and commitment of our school staff who adapted quickly and responded professionally to use of the Alternative Certification Model.
“These SQA awards, combined with our sector-leading record for sustained positive post-school destination rates of 97.1% mean indicate strong and successful progress for our young people.”
Highland praises hard work of the disadvantaged
According to council statistics, young people living in vulnerable circumstances earned a 91.8% pass rate at National 5. That’s 7.2% higher than in 2019.
This year’s pass rate was 91.2% at Higher level, compared to 85.8% in 2019.
Highland Council chief executive Donna Manson singled out these students for special praise.
“I am especially proud of the achievements of our young people facing significant challenges in their lives.
“This is a tribute to the work of these young people and also to the support from families, teaching staff, support staff and staff in social work and health who all work to help our most vulnerable young people across the Highlands.”
Shetland confident in quality
Helen Budge, director of children’s services in Shetland, said that her team believes the ACM provided rigorous assessments.
Her team will investigate performances
“As part of the analysis of senior phase attainment this year, officers from Children’s Services are undertaking a review of Higher and Advanced Higher attainment in order to better understand our local performance in the context of the national statistics.”
Shire students show ‘remarkable resilience’
Aberdeenshire director of education and children’s services Laurence Findlay praised students for adjusting to ever-changing circumstances.
“I am incredibly proud of all young people across Aberdeenshire who completed assessments this year. They have shown remarkable resilience during a time like no other.”
A council spokesman added that there was a boost in attainment rates among students who studied for Foundation Apprenticeships this year. Courses include Business Skills, IT Software, Health and Social Care, Engineering and Food and Drink Technologies, and help connect students to career opportunities and work experience.