Record exam passes- but still work to do

This article first appeared in TESS in August 2011.

Record exam passes in English

News | Published in TESS on 5 August, 2011 | By: Elizabeth Buie

  • Last Updated:

    12 August, 2011

  • Section:


Improved results attributed to the reintroduction of externally assessed folio of writing

Record passes in this year’s exams include a boost in the pass mark for English at Higher and Intermediate 1 and 2.

The improved English results are being widely attributed to the reintroduction of a compulsory, externally assessed folio of writing, last included eight years ago.

At Intermediate 1, the pass mark rose from 71 per cent to 78 per cent; at Intermediate 2 from 73.3 per cent to 80.8 per cent; and at Higher from 68.1 per cent to 71.5 per cent.

Overall, pass rates rose slightly, although there was a slight drop in the number of exam certificates sent out, due to falling school rolls.

Education Secretary Michael Russell welcomed an increase in the uptake of the Scottish Baccalaureate – up from 138 last year to 174 this year. A total of 138 were for science and 36 for languages. There was also an increase in the number of candidates entered for the interdisciplinary project element of the Baccalaureate – from 145 to 194. It is awarded half the admission tariff points of a full Advanced Higher by Ucas.

Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, said the Baccalaureate was “always going to have a slow start” because it had been introduced during an “age of austerity” in terms of staffing and resources.

Mr Cunningham, who chaired the group in 2003 which led to a revision of Higher English in the wake of the 2001 SQA exams crisis, said: “One of the issues back then was not that we were changing the emphasis on writing, but that we were changing the emphasis on what got assessed.”

This year’s rise in marks was consistent with the decline that followed the decision to drop the writing folio, he said.

Larry Flanagan, a principal teacher of English as well as EIS education convener, welcomed the reintroduction of the writing element, but commented: “Why has it taken the SQA so long to sort out the exam? Pupils have been disadvantaged by a narrowly-focused assessment.”

Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, agreed, saying English had been in “a state of flux” for a number of years.

This year also saw the introduction at Higher of a mandatory paper on Scottish history: the pass rate in this exam rose by 1.2 per cent to 80.8 per cent.

Neil McLennan, president of the Scottish Association of Teachers of History, said the change had had a mixed response, although it had been one of the best resourced.

“Elements of the Learning and Teaching Scotland website are particularly useful, for example the student guide videos. Other parts are useful further reading, almost encyclopaedic, but to really impact, these entries need to be backed up with teaching and learning resources and case studies of effective pedagogy,” he added.

Elizabeth Buie,

Passed and present

Pass rate (last year’s in brackets)

– Advanced Higher – 79.3% (+1.8);

– Higher – 75.2% (+0.5);

– Intermediate 2 – 80.3% (+1.3);

– Intermediate 1 – 76.0% (+3.2);

– Standard Grade overall 98.5% (no change) – of which 46.7% (+0.1) achieved Credit level, 40.3% (no change) achieved General level and 11.5% (-0.1) achieved Foundation level;

– Access 3 – 91.9% (+1.1);

– Access 2 – 62.5% (-0.3).


The SQA was forced to apologise on Wednesday after an external contractor working on its behalf sent out exam results a day early to 29,863 candidates.

Candidates had been neither advantaged nor disadvantaged by the early release, a spokesman said. An inquiry is underway.

Labour’s education spokesman, Ken Macintosh, said: “There should be a level playing field because the online clearing system is live from midnight.”


Original headline: English comes out top in record exam passes


About neilsgleeeclub

Educator, writer, speaker and leader. Views are my own and not those of the organisations I work for or represent.
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