Neil Munro explains the ins and outs of this year's school performance tables
Heads reacted with their usual insouciance to the publication of the results. Even at the top performing schools they were reluctant to sound exultant.
Jim Mackenzie of Williamwood High, East Renfrewshire, acknowledged his own limited contribution. "I have only been in post since August and our position is really a tribute to the work of Ian McGillivray, my predecessor, built up over many years." Mr Mackenzie adds: "Exam results are a recognition of the good work that goes on in all schools. But the league table aspect of it does not tell us anything."
Despite Williamwood's high standing, it analyses its results like any other school to discover how to improve on weaknesses and learn from strengths.
The social and family advantages enjoyed by East Renfrewshire's schools are not laurels to rest on, Jim Fletcher, the council's education convener, stresses. The authority's commitment to quality is relevant to the successful and least successful schools alike.
Mr Mackenzie concedes that socio-economic background is a significant advantage. "Having taught in a number of schools in different circumstances, I never underestimate the importance of pupils having somewhere to study at home."
The growing contribution of supported study schemes is cited by heads at the other end of the exam spectrum. St Mungo's Academy in Glasgow, which this year achieved significantly better Standard grade results, has 150 third and fourth-year pupils on supported study for three evenings a week.
Tom Burnett, the headteacher, says staff are "quietly contented". The school "outperformed itself quite dramatically" in Standard grade when compared with similarly performing schools in Glasgow. On a scale of one to seven, it was placed at the top.
St Mungo's reinforcement of pupil study has focused particularly on folios of work for Standard grade courses. Deadlines are staggered throughout the year so pupils do not come under pressure at the same time.
Mr Burnett adds: "It may be that we just have a better group of children. But we believe that our targeting has improved so that we get pupils who are possible Standard grade 3s up to level 2 and the 2s up to level 1." The number of pupils gaining a Standard grade Credit pass at level 2 this year was up by 25 per cent which Mr Burnett described as "remarkable".
Michael Graham, the head of John Bosco Secondary in Glasgow, which also turned in a creditable Standard grade performance, believes supported study may be starting to make a difference three years into the scheme. "Teachers are probably becoming more experienced at dealing with supported study instead of just treating it as homework," Mr Graham says. "We now make creative use of the time, particularly in the co-ordination of Standard grade folios."
John Bosco also had a particularly good fourth year last session, which could depress next year's figures but will also hopefully feed into a good fifth year performance in 1997. Mr Graham said a stronger showing by some subject departments accounted for a good deal of the improvement.
Mr Burnett at St Mungo's admits published exam results and relative ratings of departments are an incentive to keep scores up. But he adds: "Good schools and good principal teachers have always analysed their work" Improved performance is not attributable purely to additional examination effort. St Mungo's attaches equal importance to systems of praise and has introduced an awards ceremony. Mr Burnett stresses that this is not "an old-style prize-giving" but is intended to recognise effort as well as achievement. "The pupils have taken to it like ducks to water," he comments. "It is a question of a number of strategies appearing to gell together."