S grade narrows divide
An American academic, using the two-yearly Scottish Young People's Surveys, has measured the links between social class and performance in English, mathematics and science between 1984, when pupils sat O grade, and 1990, when almost all local authority schools offered Standard grade.
Professor Adam Gamoran of Wisconsin University, who has a Scottish base at Edinburgh University's Centre for Educational Sociology, says: "Curriculum reform can be an effective lever for social change."
However, at the top end of performance, the gap remains. Professor Gamoran has calculated that in 1984 a pupil from an advantaged background had an 86 per cent chance of obtaining a "pass" (level A-C) in O grade English and a 78 per cent chance in mathematics. The chances for a pupil with a disadvantaged background were 26 per cent and 12 per cent.
In 1990 the inequality was about the same: 91 per cent and 80 per cent in English and maths for the advantaged pupil and 32 per cent and 18 per cent for the disadvantaged. A similar picture emerged from science exams.
Professor Gamoran says that the successful elements of Standard grade may be part of a pattern that should continue with the introduction of the Higher Still programme and extended opportunities for post-16 qualifications.
Pupils who do not receive Credit-level awards at Standard grade may succeed at Highers if they have a longer time to prepare, as Higher Still would allow. That might benefit those from a disadvantaged background.
Improving Opportunities for Disadvantaged Students: changes in S4 examination results 1984-1990. Available from CES, Edinburgh University, 7 Buccleuch Place, Edinburgh EH8 9LW.