Rising pass rates for Higher grade examinations are attributable to the improved work of candidates and not to any change in the standards demanded, the Scottish Examination Board states today (Friday).
Between 1980 and last year awards in bands A-C rose from 66.1 per cent to 69.5 per cent. The board comments that this "covers the period when Higher grade syllabuses and examinations were revised to bring them up to date. In conjunction with the revision of courses, a great deal of support material was produced to assist teachers in preparing candidates.
"While the standard of the awards has been maintained, a higher percentage of candidates are attaining that standard."
The most striking improvement is at band A. In 1980, 11.1 per cent of presentations achieved the top award. By 1990 the figure had risen slightly to 12.1 per cent but has since risen steadily to 14.3 per cent in 1994 and 15.2 per cent in 1995.
The board pays tribute to candidates "who face increased competition for places in higher education, particularly in the past five years".
Hamish Long, the SEB's chief executive, said the impression he had from subject-markers' meetings was that in many subjects the picture this year was of "very, very good performances".
The current papers, the last to be set and marked by the SEB before it hands over next April to the new Scottish Qualifications Authority, saw the number of Higher candidates rise to 60,875. There were 65,486 presentations at Standard grade, up from 64,130 last year.
But only one candidate managed 12 awards compared with two last year. Thirty-five succeeded in 11 subjects compared with 43 last year. The number with 10 subjects was 1,509, down 226 on last year.
At Higher this picture was reversed: five passes were achieved by 5,055 candidates compared with 4,729 last year. The number passing in six subjects was 175, a rise of 26. Three candidates passed seven subjects, against two last year.
The difficulty that some candidates have with Highers, a feature identified by the Howie committee and accepted by the Government as a reason for the broader range of post-16 courses to be available under Higher Still, is again illustrated in the fact that of 60,875 candidates sitting at least one Higher, 13,277 achieved no pass.
The board signs off its report with a valediction. In handing over to the SQA it is "confident that Higher grade awards, first introduced by the Scottish Office in 1888, indicate a level of attainment of which candidates may be proud and in which users of the certificates can have confidence".