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And who is the highest of them all?

The Scottish results were published with the now-obligatory Government health warnings. The tables (see page 49) are "set in context with caveats", according to Raymond Robertson, the Scottish Office education minister. It was important to avoid snapshot judgments and "take account of fluctuations and trends over time".

Mr Robertson presented an upbeat message of rising standards particularly in the fourth year where the number of pupils gaining the top marks, with five or more Standard grade credit awards, has risen by 4 per cent in the past three years. Higher grade results in the fifth year, however, continue to stick stubbornly around the 20 per cent mark for pupils with three or more passes.

But, you studies your tables and you takes your choice. Scotland's top-performing school is Anderson high in Shetland with 53 per cent getting three or more Higher passes in fifth year (the traditional benchmark for university entry), against a national figure of 20 per cent. The report warns, however, that this is a school with a wide catchment area which takes in pupils from virtually all of Shetland. Ian Spence, the head, attributes part of the success to small classes.

The top performer could also be Gryffe high school in Renfrewshire, with 25 per cent of fifth-year pupils gaining five or more Highers (national average 6 per cent). Or it could be Portree high on the Isle of Skye which more than doubled its output of pupils with three-plus Higher passes from 16-35 per cent over three years. Or it could be Hillhead in Glasgow, the best among a select band of 10 secondaries in Scotland to improve on its showing at Higher grade compared with the same pupils' performance at Standard grade. Or it could be Gairloch high in the west Highlands and Dunblane high in the Scottish Secretary's constituency which shared top billing for the number of top Standard grade awards. Then again it could be St Roch's secondary in one of the most deprived parts of Glasgow which went from zero to 6 per cent of pupils with three or more Highers.

Although college results are not published in Scotland, the tables do include the significant numbers of pupils taking vocational modules and the emphasis on academic results in the coverage of the figures irritates heads such as Tom Burnett of St Mungo's Academy in Glasgow. Near the bottom of the league on academic scores, it is among the top five in Glasgow for the number of pupils gaining success in vocational studies.

The school also points out that, while it is not among the high-flyers in the fourth and fifth years, significant numbers of pupils do succeed in getting Highers the in sixth year.

School attendance rates are published separately in Scotland, although the tables do include post-16 staying-on rates which can significantly affect exam performance.

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