Graham Collins, a pupil at Abercorn School in Glasgow, was chosen as candidate of the year in the school category. He has Asperger's Syndrome, which is compounded by moderate learning difficulties.
Despite lacking confidence and concentration when he came to the school, he has surmounted these to achieve a range of exam successes, including Intermediate 1 grade As in administration and Spanish. Graham has now embarked on a sports coaching course at North Glasgow College.
"He has surpassed all expectations," the judges said.
Another winner among the 32 was Samira L Rudig-Sotomayor, a final year pupil taking three Advanced Highers at Glasgow Academy. She was the only candidate to achieve seven Highers with an A pass this year, and took the top SQA award for academic excellence at the ceremony in Edinburgh's Sheraton Hotel.
Samira has also contributed to school life, being a mentor in Spanish, for example. She has received a Nuffield bursary to carry out research on cell engineering. If successful in her application to Cambridge University, she plans to study life sciences.
The school of the year winner, given to centres which show innovation in delivering SQA qualifications, went to Isobel Mair special school in East Renfrewshire, which beat off competition from St Ambrose High in North Lanarkshire and Earnock High in South Lanarkshire.
Isobel Mair has invested in a range of technologies, such as smart boards and inter-active media, to integrate ICT seamlessly into the classroom. It also uses talking books, with voice recordings, video clips and photographs provided by pupils.
"A truly pupil-centred curriculum has been developed," the judges found.
A secondary school saw off two further education colleges to come top in the lifelong learning category. Breadalbane Academy in Highland Perthshire was chosen for its innovative curriculum focusing on vocational land-based courses. Since 2000, it has developed over 20 courses including car mechanics, equine studies and horticulture.
Other winners were:
* Centre of the year (college): Glasgow College of Nautical Studies
* Centre of the year (training provider or employer): Stagecoach
* Highlands and Islands Enterprise award: Train Shetland (Vocational Training)
* Partnership of the year: Dundee College, with Dundee City Council social work department and the independent care sector
* SQA Hero of the year: Olive Findlay, Burton's Foods
* Candidate of the year (college): Belinda Willis, James Watt College
* Candidate of the year (training provider or employer): Graeme Malone, MGT Training
* Fellowship of the SQA: Judith Sischy, director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools; James McVittie, former head of St Ninian's High, East Renfrewshire.