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SNP offers olive branch

The SNP has thrown the coalition parties in the Scottish Executive an olive branch to "open up a dialogue with us" about how to improve Scotland's schools.

Fiona Hyslop, the party's education spokesperson, was speaking after the annual release of exam statistics for the 2005 diet. As is now the custom, the figures reveal only the national and local authority picture, with individual schools' details available only on their websites.

The picture appears to be one of steady progress since Labour came to power in 1997. The headline results show that 34 per cent of S4 got five or more awards at Standard grade 1-2 or Intermediate 2 A-C (28 per cent in 1997, although there was no Intermediate exam then), while 22 per cent achieved three-plus Highers in S5 (17 per cent in 1997).

But that is not the whole picture, since pupils gain additional passes at these levels in the following years. The figure for Standard grade 1-2 awards, for example, rises to 45 per cent by the end of S5, while those achieving three or more Highers in S6 was 30 per cent.

The replacement of CSYS by the Advanced Higher does not appear to have made a significant difference - 12 per cent gained one or more Advanced Higher pass this year, compared with 10 per cent for CSYS in 1997.

Ms Hyslop concentrated on the figure of 38 per cent who had one or more Highers at the end of S5, saying that "we can't accept that 60 per cent of Scotland's pupils end fifth year with no Highers".

She added: "We have to be looking to ensure that the exams that Scotland's pupils sit and pass equip them to compete in tertiary education and in the global jobs market."

The figures confirm once again the huge gap in exam performance caused by socio-economic factors across the country. East Renfrewshire saw 58 per cent of its S4 pupils gaining Standard grade 1-2 passes, compared with 21 per cent in Glasgow. The numbers in the two authorities for three-plus Higher passes were 42 per cent and 13 per cent.

The familiar gender gap has also remained consistent over the past three years - with boys trailing girls by 9 per cent in performance at Standard grade 1-2 in S4 and by 6 per cent for three-plus Highers in S5.

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