Falkirk exams: Best ever SQA results despite year of disruption for pupils

Falkirk’s SQA results were the best ever this year, despite a year of disruption for pupils, their families and their teachers.

By Kirsty Paterson, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Thursday, 16th September 2021, 3:26 pm

The results were thanks to extraordinary hard work under very difficult circumstances and with constantly changing guidance from the SQA, a meeting of the Education, Children and Young People Executive heard this week.

A report to the committee showed that 63 per cent of pupils in Falkirk got at least one Higher this year, compared to 56 per cent in 2019, the last time traditional exams took place.

While formal exams were cancelled for the second year running, David Mackay, Falkirk’s head of education said there had been a “rigorous process” to ensure young people’s work was recognised.

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Pic: John Devlin

The report also shows that 44 per cent of pupils got at least three Highers, while 20 per cent got five or more.

Pupils studying for National 5 qualifications (previously Standard Grade) also saw good results, with 51 per cent being awarded five or more N5 passes.

That was up from 44 per cent in 2019 when traditional exams were used, although slightly down from 54 per cent last year.

After the furore last year – when the SQA was forced to abandon its use of an algorithm to change pupils’ grades – changes were made to the process.

Picture ; John Devlin

That meant this year’s results were solely based on assessments in school and teachers’ judgement and Mr Mackay told members that this year pupils had to clearly “demonstrate attainment” for certificates to be awarded.

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Robert Naylor, director of children’s services, said it was also important to remember that the younger pupils being assessed had faced disruption for two years and had no experience of formal assessments.

Comparing the results with previous years – including last year’s – is difficult as the criteria is different, but Mr Mackay stressed that he is confident that this year’s results genuinely reflect the work that pupils’ put in and the learning they had done.

But the higher marks now beg the question about whether traditional exam results properly reflect pupils’ learning – something that is being looked at on a national level after a similar picture emerged across Scotland.

Mr Mackay said: “If a young person has completed a module and demonstrated an understanding of those skills, they were accredited with that and that should be the case going forward.”

He said that these results and the experiences of the last two years would be looked at closely to see what lessons could be learned.

Mr Mackay added that schools had gone above and beyond to target the young people who were not being supported at home through lockdown and were working hard to make sure no-one was disadvantaged in the long term.

He also stressed that these results are only part of the picture and many other qualifications are available to young people, although these results are not yet available.

Councillor Adanna McCue, Falkirk Council’s education spokesperson, said: “This data shows our children are still achieving and we have steadied the ship through this time.

“All thanks go to staff, support staff and children and their families who deserve great credit.”

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