THE number of pupils gaining three or more Highers by the end of their fifth year has hit a six-year high, according to new figures.
A third of all S5 students made the grade in at least three subjects during the 2014 exams diet, catapulting Edinburgh’s pass rate further ahead of the Scottish average.
The surge means more youngsters than ever are finishing S5 with a core clutch of passes which will enable them to progress to university and skilled employment.
But the exams traffic was not all one-way and there was disappointment for some.
At Wester Hailes Education Centre (WHEC), the pass rate for those gaining at least three Highers by the end of S5 collapsed from one in ten to just one per cent.
However, a number of star performers have emerged in the most recent figures based on exam results at Edinburgh’s 23 secondary schools over 2014.
Royal High has seen its pass rate leap by 60 per cent since 2009 – and is now ranked second only to Boroughmuir in the Capital – as more than half of its S5 achieved at least three Highers last year.
And senior school pupils at Craigroyston Community High – which serves some of Edinburgh’s most deprived areas – are celebrating after more than one in ten candidates were successful – up from eight per cent last year and zero in 2009.
The new figures do not include pass rates for the new National 5 exams, which have replaced Standard Grades, and city leaders said these would be published later following guidance from the Scottish Government.
Headteachers have welcomed the trend and said it was the result of embedding an “expectation” of success among pupils and staff, irrespective of social and economic circumstances.
And they said a greater degree of flexibility and subject choice within the new Curriculum for Excellence meant the talents of each and every pupil were being far more effectively catered for.
Pauline Walker, rector at Royal High, said: “I think [our pass rates are due to] a combination of things – first of all, it’s the expectation of high aspiration and attainment, which is endemic, and the strong support system that we have to ensure that every single person can achieve their full potential.
“We’re ensuring that every member of staff knows each young person very well, their strengths and weaknesses, so that we are then tailoring the curriculum so that it really plays to their strengths.
“They’re able to make choices according to their abilities rather than just what’s available. I suppose it’s about offering strong progression from first year right through to sixth year. It’s about being able to offer a very wide range of subjects from National 3 right through to Advanced Higher.”
She added: “Staff are absolutely delighted at the progress young people have made and really proud of the whole school community that has pulled around them.”
Meanwhile, education bosses said poor results at WHEC would be quickly reversed given the soaring success among younger pupils.
Steve Ross, headteacher at Craigroyston Community High, said recruiting and retaining “quality staff” would be key to plugging the attainment gap between schools such as WHEC and his own – which are located in some of the Capital’s poorest communities – and campuses serving wealthier areas.
“You cannot come to a school like Craigroyston and think that you can treat it like any other school,” he said.
“We’re lucky in that we have staff that are totally committed to this community. And the recent inspection said that we were innovative and unique in our approach to young people.
“Tracking and monitoring policies here are quite rigorous. We really track young people when they get into the senior phase, and we let parents and carers know when they’re not doing as well as they should be.
“And our subject teachers are really aware that we expect the best from them. Staff are really quite proud when they meet with me to discuss the attainment of classes they taught.”
He said his school was not afraid to celebrate Craigroyston’s top-performing pupils, with extra-curricular Gifted and Talented sessions set up for youngsters studying subjects such as English and art.
But he stressed his school’s approach was not about focusing solely on exam success.
“Our overarching theme is employability,” he said. “Exams are all very well but every bit as important, if not more important, is what your career is going to be after that – how well you use those qualifications after that.
“My fundamental belief is that intelligence is not a post-code lottery – that’s why a school of high expectation is absolutely vital.”
Education chiefs have hailed the exams data as evidence that schools are closing the attainment gap between Edinburgh’s richest and poorest communities.
Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “There have been notable improvements across the city in closing the attainment gap, which is something that we’re trying to prioritise.
“But there’s a lot more that we still need to do.”