Robert Dickson, the acting assistant head, said the schoolhad been working hard over a number of years to widen thehorizons of its pupils. Sanquhar had also begun using the Centigrade guidance pack to match interests to courses. Senior pupils paid an Easter residential visit to Edinburgh University last year for the first time and the school was taking more advantage of university open days, Mr Dickson added.
Another explanation, Mr Dickson conceded, is that significant statistical variations can be caused by small numbers. Sanquhar only had 41 leavers last year. The school also saw a virtual disappearance in the numbers entering FE, from 25 per cent in 1995 to almost zero last year, which could have boosted the higher education figures.
This explanation does not account for the position at Castlebay Community Secondary on Barra in the Western Isles, which slumped from 58 per cent to 33 per cent, the largest fall in Scotland. Castlebay shares the problem of volatility among small numbers - the school had only 27 leavers last year - but also sent fewer leavers to FE.
Overall, 18 secondaries saw numbers entering higher education soar by 12 or more percentage points. The best performers were two Catholic schools: St Mungo's High in Falkirk (40 per cent of 138 leavers went into higher education compared with 21 per cent in 1994) and Our Lady and St Patrick's High (42 per cent of 170 leavers entered higher education against 23 per cent in 1994).
Hugh Lynch, head of St Mungo's High, believes the school's progress reflects "a drive to push up standards in general, including having good order and discipline in the school. These things all impinge. We also have a tight system for looking at departmental performance in examinations, and our self-evaluation has proved to be an escalator in terms of SCE performance. "
At the other end of the spectrum, Rothesay Academy (down 22 points among 92 leavers) suffered the worst fall. Andrew Gilmour, the head, suggests the school may be settling back to its normal level after a particularly good year group three years ago, although he acknowledges that the figure of 27 per cent entering higher education is "a bit low".
Mr Gilmour added that the staying-on rate had fallen noticeably last year when a number of leavers opted for James Watt FE College in Greenock. Fewer Rothesay pupils left for FE, however, although the numbers classified as being on training courses rose from 9 per cent to 20 per cent.