SPECULATION over the significant 2 per cent improvement in Higher performance is continuing in the absence of any official explanation from the Scottish Executive or Scottish Qualifications Authority.
Spokesmen from the two main teachers' unions have offered a range of reasons why 25 per cent of pupils in S5 achieved three or more Highers at A-C passes last year, against 23 per cent in 1998-99, itself up 1 per cent on the previous year. There was a similar 2 per cent increase from 8 to 10 per cent last year in students gaining five or more Highers.
Curiously, while continuing internal assessment in the new Higher Still courses was supposed to help boys, girls have pulled away even further. Boys gaining three or more Highers improved their performance by 1 per cent but girls did better at 3 per cent.
In sixth year, numbers achieving Highers remain steady, although in state schools there was a 1 per cent increase from 6 per cent to 7 per cent in those achieving three or more Highers. Sixth-year study results remain the same.
George MacBride, education convener of the Educational Institute of Scotland, believes the change in Higher courses could account for some of the difference. "Clearly there was agreement that the new Highers should be equivalent but given that there are different contents and different means of assessment, it would be difficult to guarantee it was always the case. That is one possibility," Mr MacBride said.
There was also evidence some results could be improved by continuing internal assessment which some students felt to be "beneficial and supportive". But there was no evidence marking and appeals procedures were any less rigorous.
Richard Goring, education convener of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said it was difficult to draw conclusions from the first set of results from the new courses. Any judgments would have to wait two or three years.
However, Mr Goring added: "I would have been gutted if there had not been an improvement and I think pupils were kept at it more and did more throughout the year. The whole basis of Higher Still was to improve results." He also believes teachers had more evidence throughout the year on which to base appeals.
In the first year of Intermediate courses, 7 per cent of the previous S4 cohort gained one or more Intermediate 1 courses and 22 per cent gained Intermediate 2 qualifications.