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Ministers promise more help for S grade failures;News;News amp; Opinion

Neil Munro looks at patterns behind the annual plethora of exam statistics

STANDARD GRADE results are maintaining their momentum but fifth-year Higher passes remain on a plateau, the 1999 exam tables reveal.

Sam Galbraith, Children and Education Minister, welcomed the improvements in Standard grade attainment - although 4,000 pupils still leave school with no S grades at all.

Pledges to bring the bottom

20 per cent of S grade pupils closer to the performance of all pupils over the next 20 years are now part of the Scottish Executive's social inclusion strategy, the latest version of which was unveiled in Drumchapel High on Monday by Donald Dewar, the First Minister, and Alastair Darling, the UK Social Security Minister.

Mr Galbraith repeated the usual ministerial mantra: "Exam performance is not the only barometer by which we can measure school performance but it would be churlish to deny that it is an important part of it."

The eighth set of tables shows that the number of pupils gaining the top S grade awards at Credit levels 1 and 2 remained the same as last year, at 31 per cent.

This is an increase from 29 per cent in 1997 and 23 per cent in 1993 when five or more awards became the S grade measure. Successes at General levels 3 and 4 added another 44 per cent to this year's results.

As always, the 31 per cent national average for S grades 1 and 2 masks huge differences - from 52 per cent in East Renfrewshire to 20 per cent in Glasgow. In turn there are major variations within education authority averages, from the top-performing Mid Yell Junior High in Shetland to 4 per cent in Drumchapel High. Nineteen authorities are at or above the national average for Standard grade Credit passes.

Some authorities point to significant changes that are overlooked by the "headline" figures. A spokeswoman in Glasgow welcomed the fact that the city has "moved off the bottom rung". Eighty-five per cent of pupils achieved five or more S grades 1-6, pushing Dundee into bottom place at 83 per cent.

In North Lanarkshire, the results suggest a "raising achievement" strategy is working, according to Charles Gray, the education convener. S grade Credit 1 awards have risen by 44 per cent over the past three years, pushing Higher A passes up by 16 per cent. Equally significant, it shows a 40 per cent fall in the number of pupils with no S grades.

The numbers with the other key benchmark qualification of three or more Higher passes in fifth year remain stuck at 20 per cent, as they have been since 1994. The focus on this fifth year measure, however, obscures the 17 per cent who gain two or more Highers in sixth year. Another 39 per cent emerge with at least one Higher from fifth year.

In addition there has been a small rise, from 6 to 7 per cent, in those who gain five or more Higher passes in fifth year.

Highers also present regional variations - from 31 per cent of East Renfrewshire pupils with three or more passes in S5 to 11 per cent in Glasgow. The results range from 54 per cent of pupils at Stromness Academy in Orkney and Mearns Castle High in East Renfrewshire to 4 per cent at Lochend Secondary in Glasgow, Newbattle High in Midlothian, Bellshill Academy and Calderhead High (both North Lanarkshire).

There are 20 authorities at or above the national average for the number of three-plus Highers gained in S5.

Leader, page 14

Schools' view and

tables in full, ScotlandPlus

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