Review of Higher pass rate to be published

John Swinney commits to making public an analysis of the Higher pass rate he was accused of carrying out in secret

Scottish education secretary John Swinney is to publish a review of the drop in the Higher pass rate

The Scottish education secretary has said he will publish an analysis of the drop in the Higher pass rate he commissioned last year, which opposition politicians had accused him of carrying out in secret.

John Swinney made the commitment in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon after the issue was raised by Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith.

Referring to the review, Ms Smith argued that the Scottish Parliament would be “better off” if it understood what the problem was with the “gold standard of Scottish education” – the Higher – and "what we are going to do about it" .

The 2019 A-C attainment rate at Higher was 74.8 per cent, she pointed out, down from 76.8 per cent in 2018 and down 2.4 percentage points since 2016, when the pass rate was 77.2 per cent.


Background: Tories demand Parliament scrutinises education analysis

Related: FMQs row over review into falling Higher pass rates

The figures: Higher pass rate falls


Mr Swinney last year described the decline as “annual variation” and repeatedly criticised opposition politicians for talking down Scottish education.

Drop in Higher pass rate

But a freedom of information (FOI) request revealed that he had privately commissioned a "multi-agency analysis" of the pass rate to find out what had gone wrong – although first minister Nicola Sturgeon told Parliament earlier this month that Mr Swinney had told the Scottish Parliament's Education and Skills Committee about his plans for a review.

The FOI showed that officials were told to examine the results in order to “consider what they might suggest about the current health of the education system and also to identify what might be required to help more young people to be as successful as possible”.

Today, during an education debate in the Scottish Parliament, Mr Swinney said: “I will publish the outline of the information that was gathered as part of this exercise."

He added: “Fundamentally, it relates to the issues that Liz Smith has cited from what I said to the Education and Skills Committee. The conclusion of the analysis was the importance of ensuring we constantly are supporting the understanding of standards, which is what the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) is currently engaged in doing, and secondly that we are taking steps to ensure there is again the availability of support to enhance learning and teaching.”

In response, Ms Smith said she was “very grateful” the information would be published but she added it was “a pity” it had not been made available sooner.

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