Ditching standard grades in favour of Intermediate qualifications has paid off handsomely for one local authority.
East Renfrewshire has posted record Higher results this year, achieved by the first batch of pupils reared exclusively on Intermediate courses.
Most strikingly, the 90 candidates achieving five Higher A passes is 25 per cent up on last year. But S5 pupils achieving three or more awards at Higher also rose, up five points to 45.5 per cent, while those attaining five or more is up four points to 26.7 per cent.
East Renfrewshire education convener Alan Lafferty said the results were "proof positive of the wisdom of moving from Standard grade to Intermediate awards".
Ian Gibson, headteacher of Woodfarm High in Thornliebank, said the continuous assessment of Intermediate 2 was a better preparation for Higher and was producing more mature candidates, with the most noticeable improvements in boys.
The school more than doubled the number of S5 candidates achieving five or more Highers, from 11.3 per cent to 28.1 per cent. Mr Gibson said last year's performance was disappointing, but this year's results still showed a big jump from the more typical figure of 14 per cent.
The number of pupils achieving three or more Highers jumped from 31 per cent to 41 per cent; the figure for those gaining at least one Higher rose from 53 per cent to 63 per cent.
"It seems to be a case of the more continuous assessment, the better the results," said Mr Gibson, who was not perturbed by plans to scrap Intermediate exams as part of the Government's qualifications reforms. If they were backed by a commitment to continuous assessment, the proposals might prove "even more successful" than Intermediates.
St Ninian's High in Giffnock became the first school in Scotland to ditch Standard grade in 2001; by 2005, each of East Renfrewshire's seven secondaries had switched almost entirely to Intermediates.
Dorothy Graham, St Ninian's depute head, said the division of Intermediate 2 courses into Higher-style, individually-assessed units made it easier to track pupils' progress. It also tied in with the school's policy of tracking pupils from S1.
Mrs Graham believes the school's high performance at Higher level - 30 pupils gained five A awards this year - could be attributed largely to Intermediate 2 courses which were "far more challenging, far more interesting and far more motivating" than Standard grade.
She, too, is hopeful that qualifications reform will retain the best aspects of the Interme-diate courses.
Exam results highlights
Standard grade entries dropped to 386,857 from 404,638 last year, down 4.4 per cent
Intermediate 1 and 2 entries rose to 174,378 from 161,172, up 8.2 per cent
Higher entries increased from 160,988 to 162,502, up 1 per cent
Pass rates for Standard grade (98 per cent), Access 3 (87.7 per cent), Intermediate 1 (71.9 per cent), Intermediate 2 (78 per cent) and Advanced Higher (75.8 per cent) all showed upward trends over five years
The Higher pass rate was 73.4 per cent, up from 71.7 per cent last year and the highest since exam structures changed in 2000
Higher English passes rose to 68.3 per cent from 64.9 per cent
Interest increased slightly in languages and sciences, with more candidates in Higher physics, chemistry, French and Spanish.