State and private sector attainment gap fell in 2020

Gap in Higher pass rate between private and state schools went down to single figures in 2020 but increased slightly in 2021

Emma Seith

State and private sector attainment gap hit low in 2020

The gap in the Higher pass rate between state and private schools more than halved between 2019 and 2020, when national exams were cancelled for the first time as a result of the Covid pandemic and teachers were responsible for grading their pupils, new figures show.

This year, the gap remained far smaller than in the years before the pandemic but it did increase on 2020 levels.

New figures published today by the Scottish Qualificatons Authority (SQA) show for the first time how attainment differs by “centre”, making it possible to compare the attainment in private verses state schools. The new figures date back to 2017.


Background: Pass rates drop across the board

Related: A-grade passes hit record high on SQA results day 2021

News: Attainment gap wider than in 2020


In 2019, the Higher pass rate for independent schools was 92.8 per cent, while for state schools, it was 73.9 – a gap of 18.9 percentage points.

In 2020, that gap plummeted to 8.9 percentage points, but this year it rose to 10.5 percentage points after the Higher pass rate fell by 2.1 percentage points in state schools but by just 0.5 percentage points in independent schools.

In 2020-21, the National 5 exams were cancelled in November and the Higher and Advanced Higher exams were cancelled in December. But there was criticism from pupils and teachers that students were sitting “exams in all but name” when they returned to school, following the post-Christmas lockdown, to an onslaught of assessment.

The finger of blame was pointed at Scotland's exam body, the SQA, because of the evidence it required teachers to collect to support their grades.

One of the big news stories on results day this year was that, although the pass rate had dropped slightly at a national level for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher qualifications, A-grade passes hit a record high.

In the private sector in 2021, 75.6 per cent of Higher entries attained As, up from 67 per cent in 2020 and 58.1 per cent in 2019.

The change represents a jump of 17.5 percentage points on 2019 but state schools saw a bigger leap in A-grade attainment.

In council-run schools, the A-grade attainment rate went from 26.1 per cent in 2019, to 38 per cent in 2020, and 45.6 per cent this year, a change of 19.5 percentage points between 2019 and this year.

When it came to Higher English, almost 80 per cent (79.9 per cent) of private school pupils attained an A grade and almost 100 per cent (99.5 per cent) gained an A to C pass.

In comparison, a total of 39.5 per cent of state school pupils attained A grades and 87.3 per cent passed.

For Higher maths, 70.9 per cent of independent school pupils attained an A grade and 94.9 per cent passed, as compared to 44.9 per cent of state school pupils who attained an A and the 78.9 per cent who passed the qualification.

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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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