School leaver attainment and destinations

A National Statistics Publication for Scotland.

Scotland’s Chief Statistician today published statistics on the initial destinations and attainment of 2021-22 school leavers from Scotland’s publicly funded schools. 


The statistics show that 95.7% of 2021-22 school leavers were in a positive destination three months after the end of the school year. This was higher than in 2020-21 (95.5%) and the highest since the current time series began in 2009-10. Positive destinations include higher education, further education, employment, training, personal skills development and voluntary work.

Compared to the previous year (2020-21) the proportion of leavers in Employment increased from 22.6% to 25.1%. This is the highest proportion since the current time series began in 2009-10. The proportion of leavers in Higher Education decreased from 45.1 per cent in 2020-21 – which was the highest since 2009-10 – to 41.2 per cent in 2021-22; the most recent figure is more in line with figures seen before the COVID-19 pandemic. The percentage of school leavers who were Unemployed decreased from 4.2 per cent in 2020-21 to 3.9 per cent for 2021-22 school leavers. This is the lowest proportion since the current time series began in 2009-10.


The statistics also show the proportion of 2021-22 school leavers attaining passes in National Qualifications at different Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) Levels.

The proportions of pupils who left school having attained one pass or more in National Qualifications has decreased at SCQF Levels 5 or better, 6 or better and 7 compared to 2020-21. These changes will, in part at least, reflect the impact of the different National Qualification certification approaches on the attainment of school leavers in 2020-21 and 2021-22.

  • 96.4% of 2021-22 school leavers gained one pass or more at SCQF Level 4 (National 4 and/or Skills for Work National 4) or better. This is a slight increase from 2020-21 (96.2%) and is also higher than the 2018-19 (pre-pandemic) figure of 95.9%.
  • 86.4% of 2021-22 school leavers gained one pass or more at SCQF Level 5 (National 5 and/or Skills for Work National 5) or better. This is a decrease from 2020-21 (87.7%) but is higher than in 2018-19 (85.1%).
  • 61.3% of 2021-22 school leavers gained one pass or more at SCQF Level 6 (Higher and/or Skills for Work Higher) or better. This is a decrease from 2020-21 (66.0%) but higher than in 2018-19 (60.5%);
  • 21.5% of 2021-22 school leavers gained one pass or more at SCQF Level 7 (Advanced Higher). This is a decrease from 2020-21 (24.2%) but higher than in 2018-19 (19.1%).

The different approaches to determining grades in 2020, 2021 and 2022 mean that care should be taken when interpreting changes between the attainment levels of 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22 school leavers, and those of previous years. The changes should not be seen as an indication that performance has improved or worsened, without further evidence.

The impact of COVID-19 on these statistics

The time period covered by these statistics means that the results are affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The different approaches taken to determining results in National Qualifications at SCQF Levels 5 to 7 as a result of the pandemic saw pass rates increase in 2020 and 2021 compared to pre-pandemic levels. The approach taken in 2022 (a return to exams, supported by a package of measures designed to address the ongoing disruption to learning and teaching which young people had experienced, and a more generous approach to grading to help ensure fairness for learners) resulted in pass rates decreasing from those levels, although they remained higher than pre-pandemic. These results will have impacted on the attainment young people have built up over their time at school and will therefore affect these school leaver attainment statistics being released today.

The pandemic will also have affected the destination choices made by - and opportunities available to - school leavers: both directly and also through its effects on attainment and on school pupils’ decisions on when to leave school.

Further details can be found in the statistical release.


The figures released today were produced by professionally independent statistical staff in accordance with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.

These statistics are sourced from ‘Summary Statistics for Attainment and Initial Leaver Destinations, No. 5: 2023 Edition’. The publication uses the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) post-review results, and school leaver destinations data supplied by Skills Development Scotland (SDS) from the Opportunities for All shared dataset. 

The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) is Scotland’s national qualifications framework. The SCQF has 12 levels, which, in ascending order (SCQF Level 1-12) indicate the level of difficulty of a particular qualification. The SCQF allows for broad comparisons to be made between qualifications to allow learners, employers and the public to understand the range of skills and learning that should be achieved at each level. More information can be found on the SCQF website


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