SQA results day 2019: What to look out for

A slew of data will appear when Scotland's exam results come out tomorrow – here, we highlight some of the key issues

Emma Seith

SQA results day 2019: The key statistics to look out for

Before the summer holidays, 136,000 candidates took thousands of exams in 480 Scottish schools and colleges across the country. Tomorrow, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) will publish the exam results. 

Before the statistics tsunami hits, here are our tips on what to look out for.

Will the new SQA boss make any big statements?

For over a decade it has fallen to Janet Brown to brief journalists on results day about the trends in that year’s exam results but it is expected that her replacement as chief executive of the SQA, Fiona Robertson, will take over this year. It remains to be seen whether Ms Robertson will use this platform to make any big statements – might she have something to say about the fate of National 4, for instance, if entries continue to nosedive? Or will she be easing herself into her new role and leaving much of the talking –  for now – to SQA director of qualifications development, Gill Stewart? We'll find out soon enough. 

Background: ‘Testing treadmill’ in Scottish schools set to continue

A headteacher's view: 'Exams? I take more pride in everyday achievements'

Long read: National 5 exams ‘are far too long’

The figures: SQA exam results day 2018: in numbers

What trends might they be highlighting?

It will be interesting to see if the drop in recent years in entries at National 4 plateaus this year (entries have plummeted from 130,876 in 2015 to 106,033 last year). That seems unlikely, though, as there will probably be a further reduction in the number of pupils gaining the qualification through “recognising positive achievement” – the process by which pupils who fail the N5 exam are awarded the N4. This fallback option will be totally withdrawn in the coming school year.

Will attainment at Higher be hit by changes to the exams?

One of the notable changes in the figures last year was the drop in the N5 pass rate. It went from 79.5 per cent of candidates gaining an A-C grade to 77.4 per cent last year, after barely shifting in previous years.

Longer exams were introduced for most N5 subjects last year – and some subjects that never previously had an exam were given one, following the removal of unit assessments.

In 2018-19 unit assessments were removed from the Higher, which again led to candidates facing longer exams this spring in many Higher subjects, as well as exams in subjects such as dance, which had previously had none.

So any dip in the Higher pass rate could suggest that the changes have hit pupil performance?

Not necessarily. The pass rate at Higher has been dropping slowly for a few years, so it went from 77.2 per cent in 2016 to 77 per cent in 2017 and 76.8 per cent in 2018. So if there is a small drop in the pass rate that would be in line with what has been happening in previous years. A more significant drop this year, though, could indicate that the changes to the exams and the way pupils were assessed this year has had an impact.

How are uptake and pass rates in different subjects changing?

It is always worth looking at how the uptake and pass rates in key subjects such as English and maths have changed when it comes to the different qualifications – if, indeed, they have. When the results came out in 2015, the Scottish government highlighted the "outstanding improvement" in the number of pupils passing Higher English, up 17.7 per cent to 27,902 from 23,702.

The uptake of different subjects at National 5 has also been a hot topic this year, because of an inquiry by the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee into the apparent narrowing of the curriculum. The worry is that languages and social sciences, in particular, are being squeezed out in S4 because pupils have room for an average of just six subjects, as opposed to the eight, or even nine, that was possible under the old qualifications regime (although the counter-argument often presented is that we should only judge a pupil's haul of qualifications when they leave school, not after S4). It will be interesting to see whether the figures show that entries for subjects there is concern about have dropped.

*Tes Scotland will be live blogging on exam results day, Tuesday 6 August. See updates on Twitter @TesScotland 

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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