New exams see pass rate fall in practical subjects

The introduction of exams in courses such as dance, fashion and photography has been followed by a fall in attainment

Henry Hepburn

New exams see pass rate fall in practical subjects

Concerns have been raised about falling attainment after exams were introduced in subjects where none had previously existed.

New analysis bears out predictions made in Tes Scotland in 2017, when experts feared that the arrival of external exams – in subjects such as dance, care, and fashion and textile technology – would damage the prospects of many students. Their concerns also extended to longer exams being introduced in other subjects.

In a report containing analysis of the 2019 Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) exams, published by the Scottish government last night, falling attainment was highlighted in a number of Higher courses that featured exams for the first time.


Three years ago in Tes Scotland: Experts predicted negative impact of new exams

New Higher exams: Fears expressed in 2018 about new exams in practical subjects

Also today: Calls for 'achievement day' to take focus off exams

Quick read: Scottish exam results concerns prompt action plan


The 31.7 per cent of Higher dance A grades in 2019, for example, was down from 54.9 per cent in 2018. The overall pass rate for Higher dance was 82.9 per cent, down from 95.0 per cent in 2018.

Meanwhile, only 9.8 per cent of students taking Higher fashion and textile technology got an A grade, down from 24.6 per cent in 2018.

And in Higher photography – another course for which an exam was introduced – A grades fell to 21.2 per cent, down from 28.4 per cent in 2018.

Analysis by Education Scotland for last night's report stated that "possible reasons for [the] drop in passes" in both dance and photography were that these courses "now feature an exam, where there wasn’t one before".

The report states that "dance is more concerning", given "significant drops at both National 5 [where an exam was introduced in 2018] and Higher".

There have also been reductions in attainment for fashion and textile technology, at both National 5 and Higher. Exams were introduced to both, although the analysis states that the fall in attainment "may be a consequence of teacher shortage for this subject area across Scotland".

The falls in attainment following the introduction of externally assessed exams may be even more significant than first appears. The report suggests that some students of "lower ability" and who do not have English as their first language may be avoiding certain National 5 subjects – including administration, dance, hospitality, practical electronics, woodwork and metalwork – because they now have externally assessed written papers. Instead, they are taking those subjects at National 4, a level for which there are no external exams.

In other words, the falling attainment rates are being recorded for certain subjects at National 5 even though there may be fewer "lower ability" students taking them than in the past.

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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