THE Capital’s schools have enjoyed double-digit increases in the number of youngsters scoring passes in their Higher exams, according to new figures.
As result envelopes dropped on to doormats to be opened by nervous youngsters this morning, education leaders have revealed the Higher pass rate across Edinburgh has soared since 2008.
And as schools waved goodbye to the Standard Grade exam, strong performances by S4 pupils were also revealed.
The results for Edinburgh schools, which came as the Scottish Qualifications Authority unveiled record-breaking 77.4 per cent national pass rates, were hailed by education chiefs.
Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “Early indications from the SQA exam results show that 2013 has been another really positive year for all our pupils, and I’m delighted by all their successes.
“Our pupils should be very proud of themselves, too – all their hard work has certainly paid off.”
Celebrations at one school were particularly fervent. Wester Hailes Education Centre (WHEC), which has long languished close to the bottom of city exam league tables and where not a single pupil achieved five Highers according to performance indicators published last year, continued its remarkable turnaround with one pupil scoring five A grade passes at Higher level.
WHEC youngsters in S4 also had reason to throw a party as nearly all of them – 99 per cent – gained passes in five or more subjects at Standard Grade Foundation level.
Headteacher Sheila Paton said: “I am delighted that we have broken through the barrier at Higher level and the school has also sustained improvements at Standard Grade.
“Well done to pupils and staff for all their hard work this year.”
Education leaders said that, as well as underpinning the numbers of city youngsters progressing to courses at university level, the results would provide an all-round boost for the city’s skills base.
Cllr Godzik said: “Our drive to improve literacy has also proved successful, with 99 per cent of our pupils now gaining an award in English by S5. The council is committed to making sure all school-leavers enter a positive destination of employment, training or further education. Last year, a record 90 per cent of them did so.
“Initiatives such as the Edinburgh Guarantee are also going a long way to making this a reality for many of our ex-pupils.”
The city’s S5 cohort saw a ten per cent leap in numbers obtaining one or more Highers this year, with nearly a third of all pupils earning passes in three or more subjects – up five per cent.
By the end of S6 pupils nearly 60 per cent of pupils across the Capital left with at least one Higher pass, a 15 per cent rise since 2008.
Just shy of 30 per cent of all S6 pupils in the city achieved passes in five or more Highers – up eight per cent on 2008.
S4 pupils put in equally strong performances. Forty per cent had scored five or more passes in the Standard Grade Credit and Intermediate 2 exams this year – up four cent – with 94 per cent of youngsters making the grade in five or more subjects at Standard Grade Foundation level.
Cllr Godzik said: “To have nearly 60 per cent of our pupils get a Higher by the end of S6 is a real achievement, and I want to congratulate all our teaching staff.”
Rising exam pass rates at Standard Grade, Intermediate and Higher level were also reported in schools across the Lothians.
In Midlothian, achievement increased or was stable across nearly all exam categories in 2013, with schools posting a three per cent leap in the number of pupils obtaining three or more Higher passes in only one year.
Cllr Lisa Beattie, cabinet member for education, said: “Our exam results demonstrate a strong improvement. Across the board, we have seen an increase in pass rates for Intermediate, Standard Grade and Higher.
“Above all, our Higher results show a positive trend with over 45 per cent of pupils achieving at least one Higher and one in every ten attaining five Higher passes.”
Education bosses in West Lothian hailed the performance of pupils at Standard Grade and Higher levels but said they were particularly proud of achievement at Advanced Higher.
Lawrence Fitzpatrick, executive councillor for education, said: “Results in Advanced Higher have increased and are above both the 2012 national average and comparative average, which is very encouraging.”
East Lothian education bosses admitted overall pass rates were down very slightly on last year but said the figures at Standard Grade had increased to just under 99 per cent.
Congratulating pupils across Edinburgh, the Lothians and Scotland, Youth Employment Minister Angela Constance said: “The exam pass rates are building on a solid record of achievement, meaning that today is a time for celebration. Record pass rates in a set of rigorously assessed exams confirm Scotland’s strong record in attainment, and I wish the class of 2013 the very best of luck in their next steps, be it another year in school, or moving on to college, university, training or employment.”
‘I really didn’t know much English’
FOR Alicja Wawszczyk, opening her exam results marked an “overwhelming” milestone she barely thought possible after arriving in the Capital from her native Poland only four years ago.
The 16-year-old, who is about to go into S5 at Firrhill High, took Standard Grade and Intermediate 2 courses in seven subjects – French, English, maths, chemistry, physics, economics and computing – and said building her language skills to the point where she was able to sit national exams and think about a future university career was a huge struggle.
She said: “I came in 2009 and, at that time, my English was not great. It was quite hard to communicate and it would really upset me.
“I went to English classes for four hours a week after school but that was it. For the first year or so here, I really didn’t know much English.”
She said the help of staff and fellow pupils at school was key to her progress.
“The teachers paid a lot of attention to me,” she said. “They asked me questions and made sure I understood what they were saying. Sometimes they would use different words to explain something and make sure I understood.
“My friends were great, too. At that time, it was really my teachers and friends who helped me out.”
Even after progressing in leaps and bounds with English, Alicja, who also helps parents Barbara and Jaroslaw in the family sandwich shop in Albert Place, admitted finding the exam process daunting.
She said: “I was really scared – before the prelims, I was shaking. But it meant that when the exams came, I had the experience of doing the prelims and it wasn’t as bad.
“Sitting the exams and getting my results is quite overwhelming. I would not have believed that I could do it when I was in first year.
“To be able to do it after only a few years – it’s just amazing.”
‘Only as good as your school’
PETER Reid, 17, head boy at Firrhill High, sat Highers in German, history, English, chemistry and physics.
Just back from an intensive Mandarin immersion course in China, he said exam success would be as much due to educational support and opportunities provided at school as to his own hard work.
“When it comes to things like results, you’re only as good as the school you’re at and the people around you,” he said.
“The teachers at the school should be celebrated just as much as the pupils. The way they have worked over the course of the year to enable and support pupils has been really amazing.”
Although happy to have reached the end of a gruelling year and receive his results, Peter, who hopes to study law and Mandarin at university, said it was important to remember that Higher passes were only one stage in a lifetime learning process.
He said: “The results are an achievement – teachers and pupils have something to be proud of. But, for me personally, you’ve got to think of them as a key to open different doors.
“They’re a means to an end rather than an end in themselves. They take you to another stage of your education.”
With Advanced Highers in history, English and German in the pipeline, S6 will be no walk in the park.
But Peter said he was looking forward to the challenge thanks to excellent school support networks.
He said: “It’s been a challenge this but I wouldn’t say I felt overwhelmed by the pressure at any point, simply because the school was so well prepared.”
Analysis: New era in examinations
WHILE happy to see pupils celebrating record Standard Grade passes, teachers also mourned the passing of an exam system that aimed to ensure all youngsters would leave school with some form of qualification.
Rory Mackenzie, a teacher for more than 35 years and head at Balerno High until 2011, said there would be sadness among staff after Standard Grade result certificates dropped on to doormats for the last time, as pupils move to the new Curriculum for Excellence National exams next session.
He said: “The Standard Grades were well thought of and well respected. The democratic structures allowed pupils of all abilities to get a recognised national certificate – I don’t think there was any real analysis of what was wrong with that system.”
A key plank of the new system will be the introduction of National 4 and 5 exams, which will replace both Standard Grade (General and Credit) and Intermediate 1 and 2 tests.
Mr Mackenzie praised the new qualifications as offering opportunities for developing less didactic and hierarchical teaching styles but also expressed worry at the loss of a format that was understood by teachers and employers.
“It takes employers a long time to understand an exam system and there will be issues with internally assessed exams,” he said.
“The Standard Grade system was robust. Teachers knew what they were doing. There were never any nasty surprises.
“Also, if pupils leave at the end of S4, they’re not necessarily going to have externally examined qualifications and that’s an issue that should be questioned.”