As the dust settles on another SQA results day I would like to congratulate all of our learners on their outstanding achievements this year. Their success has been underpinned by a year of dedicated support from their families and carers, teachers, lecturers and SQA staff.

We have once again seen a strong set of results with a rising pass rate at National 5 and three-quarters of Higher candidates gaining a pass at A-C. There has been a sustained increase in the number of skills-based qualifications, with 54,406 awards achieved this year, more than double the figure attained in 2012 and a rise of over 4,000 awards on last year.

In the past few days there has been much debate over pass rates and the performance of our pupils in certain subjects.


Scottish exams: Results show slight dip as attainment levels fall

A degree of year on year variation in results is completely expected in a high performing education system with credible assessment. If the pass rate only ever went up our assessment system would be condemned for being too easy. We also see some differing performance between age groups as they move through the system. It is important that we look with care at all of these patterns subject by subject.

It is absolutely vital that we continue to ensure our teachers have the right support in place to help them provide the best learning and teaching experiences for our young people.

Our planned review of the senior phase of Curriculum for Excellence, announced earlier this year with the backing of the Parliament, will help us to better understand how the curriculum is being implemented in schools and identify any areas where we can collaborate with teachers, parents and those with an interest in the sector to further improve the quality of education for our pupils.

We want every young person to have an equal chance of success no matter their background or circumstance. We are making progress in closing the poverty related attainment gap – the defining mission for this government - and I am absolutely determined to build on this.

Figures published this week also show that the number of 18-year-olds from the most deprived areas accepted to university has remained the same as last year’s record high, while the total number of acceptances to UK providers from the most deprived areas is the second highest on record. This is clear progress that must be recognised.

We have to recognise that success means different things to different people. For some it could mean moving straight into a job, gaining qualifications in-work, starting an apprenticeship, studying at college, gaining the qualifications to go on to university, or a combination of more than one of these routes.


Problem must be recognised to improve future exam pass rates

When a young person achieves any of these it is a moment of equal celebration.

Already this year the proportion of young people entering one of these positive destinations within nine months of leaving school has reached the highest level on record.

Our learners now have a much wider range of choice than ever before, allowing them to find the route into employment or further education that is right for them.

These qualifications provide our learners with the vital knowledge and experience specifically valued by employers.

Achieving the best outcomes for our learners is the objective of the Scottish education system and the SQA results this year demonstrate the progress we are making on this journey.

Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education John Swinney