FOR decades Highers have been the measure of success for Scotland's schools despite recognition that counting attainment in only one area is a flawed benchmark. 

Now, though, schools are looking at more effective and inclusive ways of supporting pupils along myriad paths, not purely focusing on exam achievement and university.

It's a method of teaching exemplified at St Paul's High School in the south side of Glasgow where some 73 per cent of pupils come from Scotland's most deprived postcodes.

There, pupil ambassadors have helped their secondary earn a gold level award in the SCQF Ambassadors programme - a scheme that aims to ensure young people are supported using a wider curriculum of subjects and qualifications. 

"I would recommend other schools - because we have experienced success with our wide variety of approaches - take this approach," head teacher Lisa Perotti said.

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"We were always aware that such narrow pathways were not appropriate for the big majority of young people in our school so we were always looking at alternatives."

Mrs Perotti points to qualifications on offer in her school, such as sports coaching, hairdressing or hospitality.

Change has been carried out over a significant period of time but now is embedded. 

Mrs Perotti added: "It kind of just becomes the way that you're operating and the staff come to recognise the value in having more than one pathway and you end up with the staff really buying in.

"League tables don't give families all the information that they ought to.

"Families and parents need to know what else schools are doing to add value for their children.

"And that's why I think that schools like my own, that are very inclusive and have a jigsaw of qualifications, really win out.

"Having the SCQF Gold is a bit of a league table in itself because it shows that our school is reaching out to give every child the appropriate course for them.

"There is no league table for that but there should be because it helps to capture and encapsulate all that we are able to offer."

Mirin and Robert Smith, 17, have just left St Paul's and are both going to the University of Glasgow.
The twins, who say they have several shared interests and a friendship group in common, were both SCQF Pupil Ambassadors.

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"We do end up doing a lot of things together and subject-wise we're both into STEM. We're probably a lot more similar than I'd like to admit," Mirin says.

She will read chemistry and maths while Robert will focus on maths. 

Aileen McManus, principal teacher of inclusion at St Paul's, points out that some schools see a high drop out rate of pupils who go on to university.

Mrs McManus said: "Some people will crash and burn if they go straight to university but we encourage some of our young people to first have a year of college in a more supportive environment.

"They are going to come out with the exact same degree but they've taken a different pathway. 

"Just because they don't get five Highers doesn't mean they won't get to where they need to go."

As a way of bridging the gap and supporting the transition, St Paul's pupils, like Mirin, go to The Hub at Glasgow Caledonian University where they study for their Advanced Highers in a university setting.


Mirin said: "I get really nervous with new things so the Hub has really helped me feel a lot less scared and there will be people who I know at uni."

She and her brother are looking forward to university. Mirin added: "I know that going and doing chemistry is something that I'll enjoy and if I get a job in that field I will see myself as successful because I will be happy doing it.

"Our generation know the things we've been told about success are not necessarily true."

Their classmate Liam Airnes, also 17, is also a new school leaver and is going to study hospitality at college with a view to becoming cabin crew.

Liam took up National 5 Travel and Tourism in S4 and the qualification, which doesn't require sitting an exam, "suited me, so I looked at other college courses."

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He added: "I did game design in school and did a college course at City of Glasgow College in Travel and Tourism, which meant I left school a couple of days a week to go to college and it was really good for me. 

"When I turn 18 or 19 I'm going to try to pursue a role with an airline - I want to work my way up to British Airways - because I'll have a City and Guilds qualification in cabin crew." 

These young people had been SCQF Ambassadors in the school with part of their role being to give presentations and information to parents, to reassure them of parity between subject choices.

Mrs Perotti said: "Most parents want what's right for the child and parents know that when there is such a wide offer then there will be something for their child.

"A successful young person is someone who is happy and fulfilled with their choices and who has had the opportunity to follow the path that they want, not been constricted by a very narrow curriculum and not being constricted by someone else's idea of success.

"So when you have league tables that say 'this is success' and it applies only to a very small group of people, what does it do to the moral and mental health of everyone else?'

Donnie Wood is one of the Development Officers at SCQF, the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework Partnership, and leads the School Ambassador programme in schools across Scotland

There is currently a network of more than 200 secondary schools across all local authorities involved in the scheme.

The focus is on creating bespoke "learner pathways" that allow young people to earn qualifications that suit their learning styles, needs and aspirations.

Awards are set at Levels - so, a Higher is a Level 6 awards but not all Level 6 awards are highers; some might be foundation apprenticeship qualifications. 

As well as working in schools, SCQF works with employers to explain the differing qualifications people may have away from the traditional college and university awards. 

Donnie said: "Reaching and engaging parents can be a challenge but the Pupil Ambassadors and staff in Ambassador Schools can make a real difference and are actively supporting parents in understanding the value of all qualifications that sit on the SCQF and the parity of pathways. 

"We’re striving to help parents and carers really understand the SCQF, particularly how older, historical qualifications that they may have achieved when they were at school compare to modern day qualifications offered now. 


"We’re also working with destinations – whether employer, college or university - to help them understand that a much broader range of equivalent level qualifications need to be considered and as this progresses, young people will more fully embrace those wider pathways.

"We fully understand that there are particular job roles for which applicants will absolutely need a degree but there are many which could potentially be undertaken by applicants with a wider range of qualifications at the same level or indeed skills and experience at that level." 

Pupils from St Columba's High School in Gourock have worked to earn a silver award for their secondary.

The school has opened up its qualification options since joining the SCQF Ambassadors School programme in February 2020 to include courses in mental health and wellbeing, criminology, beekeeping, creative industries, performance and sound engineering.  

Collette McGeehan, Depute Head Teacher, said: "We wanted to really look at more flexible learner pathways and to widen the opportunities for pupils, particularly in senior phase.

"But it's important to recognise that these, for some pupils, are additional courses to the normal national 5s and Highers that we offer - it's not always an alternative, for some of them it's an enhancement.

"We try to ensure there is parity of esteem between the National 5 and a level five and the Highers and the level 6 because that's important."

Ambassadors in the Gourock school are focused on making sure that there's no division between groups studying for different qualifications, keeping the focus on individual achievements.

Ms McGeehan added: "For us, it's about them achieving the absolute best for themselves. 

"We really try to nurture every young person's God given talents and give them the opportunity to achieve success and having the experience and confidence and aspiration to go on to be successful."

Angela Wallerstein, principal teacher of science, heads up the Ambassadors programme in Lasswade High School.

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The Midlothian school is taking a different approach to measuring success and has a four-year plan in place to focus on one improvement priority only - to have 100% positive leaver destinations.

That is, ensuring all pupils leave school and go on to a high quality next step such as work, apprenticeships, college or university. 

This year the school hit 97%. Ms Wallerstein said: "That's the highest we've ever been, which is 97.2. So it sounds like it's a small amount, but it's a huge priority.

"When we talk about positive destinations, we're also not just trying to hit the stats, it is about finding the best positive destination as well for each student."

Ambassadors at the school have set up an Instagram account to share information with their classmates and have a podcast about subjects and skills they can learn. 

Each department is challenged with looking at how to expand what they offer, such as Level 5 personal finance from Maths but, again, parity of esteem is vital.

She added: "That's the difficulty, I think, in Scottish education - it's about trying to raise awareness these are not dummy courses or qualifications, they are developing skills that employers are saying that graduates don't have.

"We've done a lot of work this year on the purpose of education, the purpose of a school. 

"We're obviously developing them as individuals, their confidence, their resilience, but that all ties into that you're preparing people for the world of work.

"Education has a role to play in that and I think that is about looking at the range of qualifications we're offering and asking if it is fit for purpose.

"The answer is, we need to take a hard look at what we're offering."