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Exam forecast more settled

Teachers earned a pat on the back from exam chiefs for having a better understanding of their pupils' performance this year.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority said eligible appeals against exam results are down by 2,500 this year, to a total of 45,598. These are the so-called stage one appeals, given priority because they affect conditional offers for university and college.

"We believe the appeal figure shows the process is working better because teachers are predicting more accurately the results their pupils are likely to receive," Mike Haggerty, the authority's head of communications, says.

The 142,082 pupils who sat the exams this year earned their own commendation from Peter Peacock, Education Minister, following publication of the results on Tuesday. There was a small increase in Standard grade 1-6 awards to 97.2 per cent of entries and a 1.1 per cent rise in Higher passes to 70.7 per cent.

Mr Peacock praised the hard work of pupils, teachers and parents which had produced these exam successes, allied to "strong political support".

The SQA also gave itself a pat on the back as Anton Colella, its chief executive, drew attention to the fact that it had completed the long haul back from the brink of the debacle in 2000 and was now presiding over "a stable and reliable system".

Inevitably, however, high pass rates, in Standard grade in particular, led to media comment that exams might be getting too easy. But Mr Peacock commented: "We have maintained tough and high standards in our exam system which is the envy of many countries and we are seeing performance year-on-year moving in the right direction."

He went on to note that exam trends were reinforced by better performance in 5-14 tests, although he has also said in the past that these are unreliable - hence the current review of assessment.

Further encouraging news had come in June, Mr Peacock said, from the Scottish analysis of the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) which showed Scottish 15-year-olds at or near the top of the international league table in reading, maths and science.

Those who were not arguing that exams were too easy claimed that pupils' performance was static. Pass rates over the past two years have increased at all levels of the National Qualifications, however, particularly in the newest courses: Access 2 passes are up from 49 per cent in 2002 to 66 per cent, Access 3 from 58 per cent to 70 per cent, Intermediate 1 from 62 per cent to 64 per cent and Intermediate 2 from 68 per cent to 72 per cent.

Improvement also occurred in the Higher English pass rate which was the focus of last year's discontent. It rose by almost 5 per cent to 64 per cent which simply returns the position to a little less than what it was in 2002, after last year's 5 per cent dip. The difference this year is being attributed to schools entering pupils for a more appropriate exam - Intermediate rather than Higher.

The gap in the performance of boys and girls is widest at Higher level - 55 per cent of awards were for females and 45 per cent for males. There was a 6 per cent difference in favour of girls at Advanced Higher, while Standard grade results were split 50:50.

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