A TEENAGER from an area of Glasgow listed as among the UK’s most deprived has been awarded a prized place at Cambridge thanks to a unique scheme that allows pupils to study subjects not offered at their school at university.

Rachel Thomson will begin a degree in Economics at the English university, ranked seventh in the world, after being awarded three A  grades in history, mathematics and chemistry at Advanced Higher level – the highest certificate that can be awarded in secondary education.

The 17-year-old is among the success stories to emerge from this year’s cohort of a scheme run by Glasgow Caledonian University that aims to widen opportunities for pupils with limited access to advanced highers.

Rachel is a pupil at Govan High School, which does not offer the qualification in the subjects she required to gain a place at Cambridge, where she will join a roll call of famous alumni that includes Sir David Attenborough and Oliver Cromwell.

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Glasgow Caledonian was the first university in Scotland to employ teachers to deliver nine advanced highers in subjects including maths, English, biology, physics and chemistry.

This year there were 172 presentations, with the university achieving a pass rate of 99 per cent and eight subjects recording 100% pass rates. 

Like schools, the results were initially subjected to SQA moderation before the government U-turn, however Rachel wasn’t impacted by the process, achieving the same predicted grades as her prelims.


She is the first generation in her family to go to university and will begin her studies in October.

She said: “The teachers at Govan High School were all really supportive in encouraging me to apply for Cambridge.

“I think they do a couple of advanced higher but they weren’t in the subjects I needed.

“I’ve looked at a few different career paths like data analytics and being an economist of course. I’m sure I’ll fall in love with something with the experiences I’m offered there.”

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Advanced Highers were introduced in 2001 to replace the Certificate of Sixth Year Studies (CSYS) and are essentially a simulation of the first year of university in that particular subject. They now attract more UCAS tariff points than A-Levels at the same grades.

However, research has found a performance gap between private and state schools with the former generally attaining higher results.

The universities of Oxford and Cambridge typically ask for four As at Higher level, plus three at Advanced Higher level, in their entry requirements.

Glasgow Caledonian University's bridging programme aims to help widen access to high-demand undergraduate courses, such as medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine, and also helps prepare pupils for university study. It is run in partnership with Glasgow City Council (GCC) and the Scottish Funding Council.

Other pupils in this year’s programme included Nathan Weir from Smithycroft Secondary School who is the first pupil at the university’s hub to study four Advanced Highers and will study Theoretical Physics at the University of Glasgow.

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Eleanor Wilson MBE, head of outreach at GCU, said: “There isn’t as much access to advanced highers in Scotland as we would like. It's quite patchy.

“A lot of it is to do with the size of the school more than the actual area.

“You will find that some schools have a good sized sixth year cohort and can therefore offer quite a range of advanced higher.

“We do very much look to see that they  have performed well at higher level but we can also add value. We don’t get a lot of pupils who want to do advanced highers at C grade but we have a girl who has gone from a C in history to an A  advanced higher.

“It’s very much a negotiation with the school.

“The hub isn’t just about gaining advanced highers, it acts like a university immersion course because they get access to laboratory space, they can access our virtual learning environment, which has been absolutely brilliant through Covid.

Commenting on the grading process, Ms Wilson said: “We explored every class tests, every assessment, we looked at prelim results and we used our professional judgment in how we felt they would perform if the exam was in five weeks.

“That was a tough process to implement in the short time frame. I don’t envy the task that the SQA had.

“I don’t think anyone would have got this 100% correct. We are thrilled to bits with the performance of our pupils.”