Education improvement in Highland exceeds national trends

The improving trend of attainment is continuing in Highland as demonstrated by the SQA results  published today.

Attainment in Highland schools has risen against all key indicators and improvement is also around 2% above national levels of improvement.

Improvement in Nat 5 is 3.7% compared with national average improvement of 2.9%; Higher results showed a 6.2% improvement in comparison to national improvement of 4.1%; and 7.5% improvement at Advanced Higher in comparison to a 5.4% improvement across Scotland.

Across Highland, 49.5% of S4 students achieved five or more National 5 awards (up from 46.2% in 2019), and 22.2% of S5 students achieved 5 or more Highers (up from 21.9% in 2019).  In S6, 38.3% of candidates achieved at least one award at Advanced Higher, up 1.2% on 2019.  These figures show an improvement from last year and across a five-year trend.

In terms of literacy and numeracy there were also improvements in the figures.  Before taking into account pupils who achieved freestanding units, 70.6% of S4 pupils achieved Level 5 literacy, an increase of 4% on the four-year average, and 60.4% of S5 pupils achieved Level 6 numeracy, up by 9.6% on the four-year average.  In numeracy, 41.7% of S4 pupils achieved Level 5 (up 1.6% on the four-year average) and 28.1% of S5 pupils achieved Level 6 (up 3.5% on the four-year average). 

Overall, 95.4% of S4 National 5 entries led to an award, up from 93.5% in 2019.  95.4% of S5 Higher entries led to an award, up from 93.1% in 2019.  In S6, 93.7% of all Advanced Higher entries led to an award, up from 86.3% in 2019.  33% of entries across all levels led to an award at “A”, compared to 30% in 2019.

Councillor John Finlayson, Strategic Chair of the Highland Council Education Committee, said, “These are outstanding results and everyone involved should be extremely proud of what has been achieved.  To show an improvement across the board and indeed, a higher level of improvement in Highland than across the national average, should be a cause for celebration across the Council. These results are a credit to all our schools and young people and highlight a positive story in terms of education improvement all across Highland.

“Our school staff have worked extremely hard in what has been a difficult year and we appreciate that effort.  I am especially pleased with the drop in the number of No Awards across the Senior Phase and I would like to commend the hard work of our young people and the support of their families that has led to these positive figures.  We look forward to our schools returning next week so that our improvement journey in Highland schools can continue.”

Chief Executive Officer of Highland Council, Donna Manson, whose specialist background is in Education said: “I am delighted to see the vision which the council has set out for improvement in education coming through, as demonstrated across all key measures. This shows that the approach being taken is bearing fruit, embedding different ways of working with excellent collaboration across all school staff. We are on track for very real improvement across education as a whole in Highland which translates into greater opportunities for all our children and young people. We have shown what excellent progress can be made and we will continue to work on education recovery and improvement in tandem.”

Nicky Grant,  Head of Education, said: “After what has been a highly unusual year, it has been an anxious time as candidates, families and schools have waited for the SQA results to be published.   We are very grateful for all of the hard work that our learners and staff put in during the 2019/20 session, and despite the difficulties that we faced following the school closures in March, we are pleased to see an improving trend in our results particularly amongst our Scottish Attainment Challenge Schools. It is very satisfying to see these marked improvements.  Once our college results are added in , the picture will be even more positive.  We are also very grateful to the SQA for putting in place a free appeals service for those situations where the final grade awarded is lower than teacher estimates.  We believe that when the appeals have been considered we will see further improvements to our percentages.” 

Ms Grant praised the way schools have worked to improve attainment.  She said, “We have established attainment meetings with all of our schools, where Head Teachers outlined their plans for diversifying their curriculum and shared their targets for improved attainment and how they aimed to achieve them.  Curriculum design and rationale remains a key focus for development in Highland with further opportunities being developed through the Highland Senior Phase strategy paper.  This supports collaborative working across schools, local Colleges, Highland Virtual Academy, Skills Development Scotland and our local Developing the Young Workforce partners. Discussion has also taken place with school SQA coordinators around wider accreditation which strengthens senior phase pathways in and beyond school.  Some of this work had to be paused during lockdown but we are looking forward to returning to it, which we are confident will lead to further improvements in attainment next session.”

Any young person who is disappointed with their results should contact their school for advice about whether or not an appeal will be possible.  Similarly, any young person looking for advice about their next steps should contact their school directly.  Skills Development Scotland also has a dedicated helpline on .




SQA (Scotland)

A-C %

SQA (Scotland)

% improvement

SQA (Highland)

A-C %

SQA (Highland)

% improvement

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Advanced Higher





4 Aug 2020