How do Higher pass rates differ by council?

New 2021 figures show all but one of Scotland's local authorities recording a Higher pass rate better than pre-Covid

Emma Seith

SQA results 2021: How does Higher attainment differ by council?

All but one of Scotland’s 32 local authorities saw an increase in the Higher pass rate in 2021 as compared with 2019, the last year before the Covid pandemic started.

And in most cases the difference between those two years is more than 10 percentage points – with one council recording an increase of over 20 percentage points.

However, a Tes Scotland analysis of Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) figures also shows that in most cases the Higher pass rate recorded in 2021 is lower than that in 2020, when grades were based on teacher judgement but stricter rules on supporting evidence were not in place.


Related: SQA post-Covid data shows rapid narrowing of attainment gap between state and private schools

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The figures show that, in 2021, West Dunbartonshire Council had the highest Higher pass rate, with 95.8 per cent of Higher entries resulting in an A to C grade. That is almost on a par with the independent schools sector, where 97.2 per cent of entries resulted in a pass.

SQA results 2021: Pass rates for Highers better than before Covid 

Figures published this week by the SQA show that the attainment gap overall between state and private schools at Higher was 10.5 percentage points this year, although it is considerably narrower than pre-Covid.

The council with the lowest Higher pass rate in 2021 was Shetland. It was the only council to see the pass rate at Higher drop – albeit marginally – between 2019 and 2021.

Shetland’s Higher pass rate was 81.9 per cent in 2019 and 80.9 per cent in 2021.

However, Shetland is one of Scotland’s smallest local authorities, and the relatively small number of students sitting Highers makes the pass rate more prone to fluctuation – in 2020, the A-C Higher pass rate was considerably above pre-Covid levels, at 89.7 per cent.

The mainland council with the lowest pass rate this year was Aberdeenshire Council, where 81.4 per cent of Higher entries resulted in A to C grades, although that is still considerably Higher than the 2019 figure of 73.9 per cent.

Clackmannanshire saw the biggest improvement in Higher attainment between 2019 and 2021: in 2019, 65.7 per cent of Higher entries resulted in an A-C pass, but this year that figure rose to 87.4 per cent – an increase of 21.7 percentage points.

In 2019 the authority with the highest pass rate at Higher was East Renfrewshire with 83.7 per cent of entries resulting in A to C grades (90.5 per cent in 2021).

In 2020 the authority with the highest pass rate was West Dunbartonshire with 93.3 per cent of entries resulting in a pass. As previously highlighted, West Dunbartonshire also had the highest pass rate at Higher this year at 95.8 per cent.

The figures that allowed Tes Scotland to carry out its analysis were released this week by the SQA.

On the same day it also released attainment data broken down by state and private sector.

These figures showed that the attainment gap between the sectors, in terms of the Higher pass rate, more than halved between 2019 and 2020, when the exams were cancelled for the first time due to the pandemic. It then widened slightly between 2020 and 2021, but still remained far smaller than in 2019.

In 2019 the Higher attainment gap between state and private schools was 18.9 percentage points; in 2020 it was 8.9 percentage points; and in 2021 it was 10.5 percentage points.

A table showing the Higher pass rate for every local authority in Scotland in 2021, 2020 and 2019 can be found here. It also shows the change in the pass rate between 2019 and 2021.

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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