Philip Austin, principal teacher of biology at Banchory Academy, found that among pupils of similar ability in the school only half passed four out of four Highers. Yet 80 per cent of those who sat in five subjects passed all five. Ninety per cent of those who sat five passed three or more, but only half of those who attempted three got all three.
Mr Austin said: "Had all the pupils who took only three or four subjects been encouraged to take five, like many others of the same general ability, then they might have had even more success."
He was presented last week with the prize awarded by the Scottish Council for Research in Education for the best piece of research by a teacher. The study arose from concern at Banchory five years ago about how many pupils failed to convert Standard grades into Highers. "Pupils of all abilities were failing exams, not just the least able."
Banchory has sought to improve guidance in course choice after Standard grade. Uptake of five Highers among those eligible rose from an average of below 60 per cent for the two years before the new policy to just over 70 per cent since. This has led to an increase in Credit level success at Standard grade being converted into Higher passes.
Subject departments now spend more time on the curriculum instead of allocating time for private study. That has helped improve performance by pupils who have been encouraged by the school's emphasis on better course advice to set themselves more ambitious targets.
Mr Austin's findings appear in the SCRE newsletter (no 64) just published.
Research forum, page six