STUDENTS are celebrating a record year in exam results as the overall pass rate for all National 5s, Highers and Advanced Highers increased from the 2019 pre-pandemic level.

Data published by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) showed a record number of passes in an exam year at National 5 while the number of vocational and technical qualifications achieved has equally grown to a record high this year with more than 72,000 qualifications awarded in 2023 – an increase of 12.3% from 2022.

The poverty-related attainment gap also remains narrower than it was in 2019 across National 5s, Highers and Advanced Highers.

The Higher pass rate is down from last year but remains above 2019 levels.

Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth said: “I want to offer my congratulations to all of you who have worked so hard and demonstrated so much resilience not just this year but over the course of your studies. 

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“Today is all about celebrating your achievements and you should be incredibly proud of all you have accomplished. 

“I would also like to send my sincere thanks and gratitude for the continued dedication and commitment of those in our education system – thank you to all of Scotland’s teachers, lecturers, support staff as well as parents and carers for supporting our young people. 

“There is much to celebrate in what is another strong set of results showing a clear and continuing recovery from the pandemic.

“While we know that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds, these results show that the gap in attainment levels between the least and most deprived areas remains narrower than it was in 2019. We are determined to build on the progress.”

Figures from the SQA show attainment of A to C grades was 77.1%.

It had been 79.8% in 2022, 87.3% in 2021, 89.3% in 2020 and 74.8% in 2019.

There was a similar trend at Advanced Higher level, with those attaining A to C grades at 79.8%, down from 81.3% in 2022, 90.2% in 2021 and 93.1% in 2020. The pass rate was 79.4% in 2019.

For National 5 qualifications, the pass rate was 78.8%, down from 80.8% in 2022. It was 85.8% in 2021 and 78.2% in 2019.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) said the exam results were “strong”.

In a statement to media, the organisation said a “sensitive approach” was used to ensure fairness to learners in awarding results in 2023.

The statement added: “This recognised that learning and teaching are still in the recovery phase from the pandemic, and took that into account while maintaining the credibility and high standards of Scotland’s qualifications.”

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For those who did not get results they were hoping for, the Skills Development Scotland Careers Helpline can offer practical information and careers advice as well as support for wellbeing.

The SQA helpline is also open and can help students and their families with queries relating to the Scottish Qualifications Certificates.

For more information about services to contact, click here.

Scottish Greens reaction

The Scottish Greens have called for teachers and young people to be at the heart of reforms to the exams system and the replacement of the SQA with a new exams body.

The Scottish Government previously announced that, as part of a wider education reform, the SQA is to be replaced by a new body in 2024.

Commenting on the results, Greer (below) said: “Despite the continued disruption to learning over the last year, these are very strong results and are a tribute to our young people and the fantastic teachers and school staff we have across Scotland.”

However, he said the party believes that “exams are a far less accurate way of measuring a young person’s knowledge and abilities” and called for a move away from “Scotland’s Victorian-era-high stakes end-of-term exam system”.

The National:

“A learner who has excelled all year can currently have their future altered by a single bout of anxiety or a bad cold affecting their performance on the day.

“That’s not to mention the disadvantage faced by those from chaotic household situations who might not have slept the night before their exams.”

Greer added: “That is exactly why the Scottish Greens secured the review of qualifications and assessments which became the Hayward report on the exams system.

“We were delighted by the bold changes that the review recommended and look forward to the discussion with teachers, students, parents and carers on how they can be taken forward.”