Advanced higher courses have defied predictions with a record number of entries in 2009.
The figures, which show a particular surge of interest in maths and the sciences, are a surprise boost to education leaders. Many had predicted that cutbacks would force schools to abandon Advanced Highers because of the small classes involved.
But some fear that a two-tier provision is developing and say the rise in uptake over the past three years has been inflated by the independent sector's embrace of the qualifications. They even seem well on their way to denting the prevalence of A-levels in Scotland's independent sector.
There were 19,645 entries this year, up from last year's record of 18,854. This represents a jump of 10 per cent in the two years of economic downturn since 2007, when the Headteachers' Association of Scotland (now School Leaders Scotland) expressed concern that schools did not have the resources to offer Advanced Higher. In the same two-year period, Higher entries rose by only 4 per cent, to 167,635.
Pass rates in Advanced Higher have risen this year by 2 per cent, to 77.8 per cent, and in Highers by only 0.8 per cent, to 74.2 per cent.
Much of the increased uptake has been in independent schools: since 2006, it has risen by 16 per cent in independent schools, but by only 6 per cent in local authority schools (both sectors saw a rise of about 4 per cent between 2008 and 2009). hh.