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Results tell a complex story with a happy ending

Results day is possibly the biggest event in the school calendar, bringing excitement, tension and apprehension for students, teachers and parents. This year the national picture was generally a positive one (see pages 6-7).

Higher pass rates were at a record level, according to the figures from the Scottish Qualifications Authority. Overall, almost 150,000 certificates were sent out to candidates at all levels, from Access to Advanced Higher. But a closer look at the statistics reveals a much more complicated story.

The pass rate for the old Higher, which was sat this year for the very last time, was down slightly - and was lower than the attainment rate of students who sat the new Higher. There could be many reasons for this, but one is likely to be that what is delivered in Scottish classrooms is now increasingly tailored towards the new qualifications.

And even for the new Highers, where more than 79 per cent of candidates achieved at least a C, the tale is not a simple one. Attainment in modern languages, as well as in English, seems to have been above average, but was much lower in maths and the sciences. This was expected by many, but still shows the challenges posed by the introduction of the new qualifications.

For the National 5 exams introduced last year, the A-C pass rate dropped from 81.1 per cent to 79.8 per cent. For those sitting Intermediate 1 exams, on the other hand, the proportion achieving a C or better rose.

These results show that the new qualifications will need time to bed in. The new Higher results cannot be compared to the results of the past. It remains to be seen what conclusions can be drawn from two years of National 5s.

In some ways, however, all this analysis is secondary. Because what the tension of Tuesday boils down to is the fact that thousands of young people made a crucial step. They found out whether their plans for the next few years would become a reality. For many of them, thankfully, they will.

Unions and politicians from across the political spectrum have been clear on what they put that success down to: the hard work of learners, as well as those at the chalkface. This is quite right. Despite the difficult year they have faced in terms of curriculum change and workload, teachers have delivered for their students.

But amid all the excitement, it is important to remember that the challenge is far from over. Workload is unlikely to ease, and with the last hurrah of the old Highers now over, it's time for the full implementation of the new exams, as well as the first exam diet including new Advanced Highers.

Come September, teachers across Scotland will once more embark on a school year full of change and pressure. Making sure that their students are as prepared as possible for next summer's exams will not be easy, but the Scottish education sector is yet to face a challenge it cannot conquer.

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