The last set of tables in this year's cycle of Scottish Office school data, covering the destinations of secondary leavers from 1994-96, was published this week with the usual caveat that much of the information reflects the importance of local economies and local traditions as much as local schools.
"This report offers no more than an introduction to school-leaver destinations," the Scottish Office confesses. "The figures presented in this report may reflect factors partly or largely outwith the control of the school . . . The destinations of a school's leavers may depend to some extent on its location."
The warning is readily borne out by the fact that East Dunbartonshire and East Renfrewshire, whose schools are among the top academic performers, also top the table for numbers entering higher education - 45 per cent against the national average of 28 per cent. Boclair Academy in East Dunbartonshire was the leading scorer with 62 per cent going into higher education, closely followed by Lenzie Academy and Williamwood High in East Renfrewshire at 60 per cent.
Glasgow and West Lothian send fewest leavers into higher education (which includes higher national diploma and certificate courses as well as degrees and teacher training). Only two of Glasgow's 39 secondaries, Cleveden Secondary and Hillhead High, are above the national average. Among West Lothian's 11 secondaries, only Linlithgow Academy beats the Scottish figure.
The virtually static picture of entry to higher education, up from 27 per cent to 28 per cent over three years, appears to be the main reason for the "fairly stable pattern" of leaver destinations.
There has been a slight rise in the numbers entering further education, from 15 per cent to 17 per cent, a 4 per cent fall in the numbers opting for training and a fluctuating trend of leavers landing a job. But the training and employment figures have to be treated with particular caution because the Skillseekers programme provides training to those who are in work as well as on a training place. It is therefore impossible to gauge the true extent of provision; 54 per cent of the 35,000 young people training on Skillseekers in 1996-97 have employed status.
East Ayrshire sends 30 per cent of leavers directly on to training courses, more than anywhere else and more than double the national average. This again is likely to be the outcome of local circumstances: Cumnock Academy, Doon Academy and St Conval's High have more than 40 per cent of their leavers entering training schemes as a result of job scarcity.
Training elsewhere will also be provided on the job and will feature in the employment column as well.
The jobs market may also account for Scottish Borders topping the table of numbers going into further education, 28 per cent against the Scottish figure of 17 per cent. David Blaszk, head of the local careers company, suggests this simply reflects limited employment opportunities. Hawick High, in a jobs blackspot, has more leavers going on to FE and training than any of the council's nine secondaries.
Mr Blaszk says: "The fact that there is only one FE college in the Borders also probably helps in that there is no dissipation of effort in choosing between a number of colleges. It has to be said that Borders College also markets itself very well to attract students."
Although not included here, the Scottish Office also keeps track of miscellaneous and missing leavers. The 14 per cent who have moved on to "other known destinations" in each of the past three years include the unemployed which is presumably why Glasgow has consistently had more youngsters in this category than any other authority. The Scottish Office is still unable to distinguish between jobless leavers and those not working full-time for other reasons.
The hard core of leavers who simply cannot be traced has remained at 3-4 per cent over the three years to 1996. Highland has more difficulty than most in finding out where they go. The destinations of 8 per cent are unknown, double the national average and 2 per cent up on the previous year. Henry Mennie, chief executive of Highland Careers Services, attributes the problem to the large population drift in and out of such a huge area. "It is difficult to trace people and it has always been the case that a large number of school-leavers go south, particularly those with higher academic qualifications."
This has also been true in the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland but they are all below the national average in the "unknown" category, another indication that this particular table on school performance is heavily influenced by each school's location.