Steady progress despite some blips

28th November 1997 at 00:00
Neil Munro introduces two pages of analysis and reports on this year's exam tables, which are given in full in TES2, pages 19 to 23, and we highlight how schools in Fife and East Renfrewshire measure up

The 1997 table of exam results disguises the usual details and again comes with abundant health warnings about misinterpretation.

However, it is now possible to detect trends over the five years since publication began. The raw results show steady if unspectacular progress.

Standard grade Credit awards have increased from 23 per cent who gained five or more in 1993 to 29 per cent, although last year saw only a 1 per cent rise.

The number of pupils with no meaningful Standard grade success, measured by those who did not achieve five or more awards at any level from 1-6, declined this year to 10 per cent having stuck at 11 per cent for the previous three years. Fifth-year pupils gaining three or more Highers slipped to the 1993 level of 19 per cent, having been at 20 per cent for three years. Another 16 per cent of pupils got two or more Highers in the sixth year, the same as in 1993.

The schools and authorities at the top and bottom of the heap are unchanged, but elsewhere there are wild fluctuations for some schools, often stemming from "good" or "bad" year groups.

Tiny numbers can also produce misleading results for very small schools. This is highlighted in the case of Sanday Junior High in Orkney, a four-year secondary with 32 pupils, which came out on top in the Standard grade league among council schools with 86 per cent of pupils achieving five or more Credit awards. The numbers there were so small that no figures were recorded for the past two years.

It was followed by the 103-pupil Castlebay Secondary, a six-year school in the Western Isles. There 71 per cent got five or more Standard grade Credit awards. Then came another four-year secondary, the 91-pupil Dalry Secondary in Dumfries and Galloway, with 64 per cent.

Last year's fourth year in Castlebay comprised 14 pupils and Tony Cusak, the headteacher, reinforced the dangers of taking the exam figures at face value. "Last session's fourth year was a particularly able group but it was also a particularly small group. But, having said that, we have experienced steady improvements over the last two to three years."

Jordanhill in Glasgow, funded directly by the Scottish Office, is once again the "best" state school in Scotland. It increased its Standard grade results by six points to 76 per cent of the fourth year gaining five or more Credit awards, had perfect completion for its Standard grade course for the third year running, and saw 61 per cent of pupils with three or more Highers in fifth year while another 29 per cent got two or more Highers in sixth year.

The best Standard grade performance by a mainstream council comprehensive could therefore arguably be claimed by Cults Academy in Aberdeen, where 60 per cent achieved five or more Credit awards representing a 6 per cent improvement on last year. A total of 20 schools in 15 authorities recorded 50 per cent of pupils with five or more Standard grade Credits.

There were 42 schools where more than a fifth of pupils failed to get five or more Standard grades at any level. The unenviable record is held by Smithycroft in Glasgow where 45 per cent were in this category, a 14-point decline. Twenty-one others in the city had more than 20 per cent of pupils in a similar position.

But it is a Glasgow school, Hyndland Secondary, which showed the most improved Standard grade performance at Credit level - a 21 per cent increase in the number of pupils with five or more passes, against an unchanged Glasgow picture.

Ken Goodwin, the head at Hyndland, says they had "an exceptionally able fourth year last year although, of course, credit is also due to the high expectations of our staff. But there is no magic formula".

Strictly speaking, the 841-pupil Hyndland came second to Castlebay Secondary on Barra which recorded a 35 per cent rise in the top Standard grade league. These were among an elite group of 27 schools which had more than a 10 per percentage point increase in Standard grade Credits this year. Eight secondaries declined by the same margin.

At Higher level, 14 council secondaries had 40 per cent or more with three or more passes, led by Anderson High in Shetland (53 per cent). The most improved performance was by the 167-pupil Tobermory High in Argyll (up 19 points, but with only 29 fifth-year pupils).

St Bride's High in East Kilbride was the next most improved for Higher passes, with a 13-point rise; but that was still below its 1995 level signifying, it appears, a good fourth year last year.

A similar phenomenon could explain the big swings experienced at Selkirk High - 14 points down on the number of Higher passes last year which in turn were 15 points up on the year before. But the biggest Higher decline was recorded at Elgin Academy where there was an 18-point fall.

Last year's fourth year at Selkirk High had a 17-point fall in the number gaining five or more Standard grade Credits which this year converted into a 14-point decrease in the number of three or more Higher passes. George Jack, the headteacher, described himself as "phlegmatic" about one-off results. "I'm more interested in trends and, if results over time showed reasons for worry, we would have to take cognisance of that."

There are also significant numbers of schools whose pupils gain their Highers in sixth year. Although only four of Glasgow's 38 secondaries were above the 19 per cent national average for three or more Higher passes, for example, another four which were below the fifth year average were above the 16 per cent national average for the numbers with two or more Higher passes in sixth year.

North Lanarkshire also had just four of its 26 secondaries above the national average for Higher passes achieved in fifth year, but no fewer than nine were above the Scottish sixth year figure. A total of 43 secondaries who fell below the average for fifth year Higher performance rose above it in sixth year.

If the schools at the top and bottom of the heap are of little surprise, neither are the authorities. East Renfrewshire continues to reign supreme: 46 per cent of pupils gained five or more Standard grade Credits followed by East Dunbartonshire on 40 per cent.

This contrasts with Glasgow pupils' 17 per cent and Dundee's 19 per cent. These rankings are virtually unchanged from last year.

These four authorities are also in the same pecking order for Higher attainment in fifth year although Shetland shares the second spot with East Dunbartonshire, helped by another strong showing from Anderson High in Lerwick.

Comment, page 20

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