The Scottish Government has been accused of a “snide and cynical” attempt to avoid scrutiny of its record on education after detailed analysis of exam results which revealed a worrying decline in pupil performance was quietly released at 8pm last night.

The data, prepared by the Scottish Government’s Learning Directorate for Education Secretary John Swinney, found that the number of pupils achieving passes in core Higher classes dropped significantly last year – in some cases by as much as 10 per cent.

According to the figures, more than 1,500 fewer pupils passed their Higher English exam last year, a drop of 5.5% compared to 2018 and the lowest number since 2014.

The downward spiral continued when students sat Advanced Higher tests in the subject, with the number who passed dropping by 8.8%, or almost 200.

The picture was repeated in other exams, with the pass rate for Higher History falling from 82.6% to 72.8% and a 14.6% drop in overall passes.

The number of passes in Higher Modern Studies was also down by 7.1% In Maths, the pass rate fell by 2.1% – the first decline since 2014.

No explanation for the increasing number of pupils failing exams rates was provided, although it comes against a backdrop of Higher passes at grades A-C falling overall between 2018-19.

The report has been prepared to inform Mr Swinney and help him decide on future policies to improve standards.

It says: “The papers were prepared for the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills on the basis of a free and frank exchange of views with the intention of informing thinking about possible future actions.

“While it would not be normal for the Scottish Government to publish some of this material, a decision has been made to do so at this point due to the interest in the issue and in order to focus the discussion on action to deliver further improvement in relation to Scotland’s education system in order to help all its children and young people reach their full potential.”

Jamie Greene, Shadow Education Secretary, said of the release time: “This is a snide and cynical move by an SNP government which is increasingly in crisis across all of Scotland’s public services. There are clearly major and systemic problems within our education system that the SNP simply refuses to acknowledge or take action on.

“John Swinney insisted there were no issues concerning the drop in pass rates, but this snuck-out report proves him wrong.

“His continuous ‘nothing to see here approach’ is simply untenable

“The SNP is failing an entire generation of our children and our once world leading education system is increasingly losing the faith of parents, pupils and teachers.”

Speaking as the data was released, Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “The Scottish Government regularly monitors performance to inform decision-making.

“Taken together, this analysis demonstrates good progress in a number of areas and that it is challenging to identify significant drivers of change or to draw firm conclusions about some subjects due to small numbers of entries. The analysis has, however, identified areas that justify further exploration and highlight actions that have been agreed.

“My key areas of focus are to ensure that curriculum and assessment are aligned, how to better support professional learning and development and maintaining a clear focus on enhancing learning and teaching. I will continue to do that in my discussions with partners on performance.”

The data has been available in a raw form on the SQA website but without the analysis of this report.