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A failure to recognise the results

ne wonders how media pundits and distressed business folk would react if exam passes were showing a downward trend. Presumably, on the basis that they regularly complain about easier exams when the reverse is the case, they would be duty bound to excoriate indifferent teaching and under-performing schools. But no. Last year's drop in the Higher English pass rate was met with cries that pupils were being "short-changed". Now that Higher English has staged what appears to be a recovery, the verdict of some is that pupils' performance is "static" because the position is no better than it was two years ago. Ah well.

Comments by some business leaders that there must be something rotten in the state of Scottish education because nearly 100 per cent are passing at Standard grade are particularly off the wall. Such criticism assumes that all passes are at the same level and that performance across the levels has the same meaning. Those with longer memories will know that Standard grade emerged from the Dunning report on Assessment for All, which was precisely predicated on the view that all pupils are entitled to have their achievements acknowledged, whatever their ability levels - from Credit 1 to Foundation 6.

The introduction of National Qualifications has made the exam picture a more complex one, and performance is a mixture of school performance, presentation policies, parental pressures, the effectiveness of teaching, and so on. Youngsters who, in the past, would not have featured in Higher exams, or who would have been presented and failed, now have the chance of success in the Intermediate options. We should not lose sight of the fact that achievement takes many forms.

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