Chapter 1: Introduction
This chapter outlines data sources, concepts and methodology associated with the data used in this report. Information on the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on these statistics is also included in section 1.1.
1.1 Impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on these statistics
1.1.1 Impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on School Leaver Destinations
Initial destinations relate to the activity being undertaken by young people three months after the end of the school year (October 2020). Destinations figures may reflect both choices made by pupils, as well as the opportunities available to them upon leaving school. The availability of particular opportunities (employment opportunities, for example) to 2019/20 school leavers may have been directly affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Further analysis and interpretation of these statistics should take this into account.
The coronavirus pandemic meant that the start dates for some opportunities such as apprenticeship programmes, college courses etc. were delayed in 2020. Had these started as originally planned (prior to the reference date of 5th October 2020) any school leavers participating in them would have been recorded as being in a positive destination (see section 1.2). In those instances where they instead started later than planned, and after the 5th October reference date, it is possible that some of these school leavers may be recorded as being in an ‘other’ destination (‘Unemployed Seeking’, ‘Unemployed Not Seeking’, ‘Unknown’) depending on the activity they were undertaking prior to these opportunities starting.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic may have also affected local partnerships' ability to track some school leavers through home visits meaning that their initial destination may be ‘Unknown’. This is likely to have partially contributed to the larger proportion of school leavers with an ‘Unknown’ status compared to previous years.
How can I use School Leaver Destination figures?
Do not use School Leaver Destination figures
- Without considering the impact that Covid-19 may have had on the availability of particular opportunities.
Use School Leaver Destination figures
- As an accurate reflection of school leavers’ (initial) destinations.
- To compare the destinations of different groups of school leavers.
- To make comparisons over time of the destinations of school leavers.
1.1.2 Impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on School Leaver Attainment
The attainment data presented in Chapters 4 and 5 of this report covers the full range of National Qualifications that individuals left school with, at Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) Level 3 and above.
Grades awarded in National 5 (SCQF Level 5), Higher (SCQF Level 6) and Advanced Higher (SCQF Level 7) National Qualifications are typically assessed externally via examinations and/or coursework. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic led to the cancellation of 2020 exams and the decision for the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) not to collect coursework or mark coursework that had already been collected. As a result, grades awarded in 2020 in the qualifications listed above were instead based on teacher estimates (for more information see section 7.5.2). These results form part of the 2019/20 school leaver attainment figures in this report.
For many school leavers, attainment in the most recent year before they leave school is likely to have a large impact on their highest level of attainment. The 2020 results will therefore have an impact on the overall attainment of many 2019/20 school leavers. By way of illustration, amongst 2019/20 school leavers, 26 per cent of all passes were achieved in the final year before leaving. When focusing on the highest SCQF level achieved, 72 per cent of school leavers achieved their highest level in the final year before leaving.
The attainment data in this report provides an accurate reflection of the attainment with which school leavers in Scotland left school; for this reason the 2019/20 attainment data has been presented alongside data for previous years. However, a dashed line break in the series has been placed between 2018/19 and 2019/20 to indicate that care must be taken when comparing 2019/20 school leaver attainment to that of earlier years due to the different certification methods. It is not possible to fully determine the extent to which the coronavirus pandemic and, more specifically, the certification methods used in 2020 have affected the attainment levels of the 2019/20 school leaver cohort. Any change between the attainment levels of the 2019/20 cohort and those of previous years should therefore not be seen as an indication that performance has improved, or worsened without further evidence.
Further information on the impact of the coronavirus on these statistics can be found in section 7.5.
How can I use School Leaver Attainment figures?
Use School Leaver Attainment figures
- As an accurate reflection of the attainment with which school leavers in Scotland left school in different years.
- To make factual comparisons of the proportions of school leavers attaining at different SCQF levels over time.
- To compare the attainment of different groups of school leavers.
Do not use School Leaver Attainment figures
- As an indication that performance in 2019/20 was better or worse than in previous years without further evidence.
- Without taking full account of the different approach to certification in 2020 compared to previous years.
1.2 School Leaver Destinations
This publication provides information on the initial destinations of 2019/20 school leavers, relating to outcomes approximately three months after the end of the school year (5th October 2020).
A separate publication - ‘Summary Statistics for Follow-up Leaver Destinations’ – will follow in June 2021 and will provide information on the follow-up destinations of 2019/20 school leavers, approximately nine months after the end of the school term (1st Monday in April).
School leaver destinations data is based on the Skills Development Scotland (SDS) ‘Opportunities for All’ shared dataset matched with pupil census records for the school year 2019/20.
A school leaver is defined as a young person of school leaving age, who left school during or at the end of the school year. For 2019/20 school leavers, the leaver year is 18th September 2019 to 15th September 2020. More information can be found in section 7.2.2.
This publication covers school leavers from all stages of secondary school. For most young people, S4 (≈15-16 year olds) is the last compulsory year of school, but the majority choose to stay on and complete S5 (≈16-17 year olds) and S6 (≈17-18 year olds).
Figures in this report are based on pupils in publicly funded mainstream schools, in the 32 local authorities and one grant aided school. Figures including school leavers from publicly funded special schools are available in the supplementary tables.
Destinations are grouped in the following categories within this statistical bulletin:
Personal Skills Development
Unemployed Not Seeking
1.3 School Leaver Attainment
Within this report, the main school leaver attainment data found in Chapters 4 and 5 covers Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) National Qualifications achieved throughout all stages of a pupil’s education at school. The range of qualifications included can be found in the diagram below, and cover National Courses (such as National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher) as well as Skills for Work courses. These statistics on National Qualifications do not include attainment in National Units, Scottish Baccalaureate or National Qualifications below Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) Level 3 (such as National 1 and National 2).
The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) (https://scqf.org.uk) is used as the basis for reporting attainment. The SCQF is Scotland’s national qualifications framework which allows broad comparisons to be made between qualifications at a similar level of difficulty. The SCQF level indicates the level of difficulty of a particular qualification. It allows learners, employers and the public in general, to understand the range of skills and learning that should be achieved at each level.
This publication reports the number of passes at a given SCQF level or better and the highest SCQF level achieved at SCQF Levels 3 to 7, incorporating the National Qualifications shown in the following diagram:
Highers (SCQF Level 6) are generally taken in S5 or S6 and Advanced Highers (SCQF 7), are generally taken in S6. Highers, sometimes along with Advanced Highers, are the Scottish qualifications required for entry into Higher Education.
In this publication, grade A to C (or ungraded pass) is considered a pass. If a pupil attains a D at a certain level, this is counted as equivalent to a pass at the level below.
School leavers from 2019/20 are the fifth cohort to have experienced the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) (https://scotlandscurriculum.scot) throughout the entirety of the senior phase (S4-S6) of their school education. School leavers from 2013/14 and 2014/15, will have taken a range of awards and qualifications from the current set to older qualifications that have now been phased out, such as Standard Grades. Using SCQF levels to measure attainment in National Qualifications allows for broad comparisons to be made between qualifications consistently as they are adapted over time.
For more information on how this data is collected, see section 7.2.2.
1.4 Additional Qualifications
Whilst the main measures in this report focus on National Qualifications, a new Chapter (Chapter 6) has been added to this release which covers other qualifications that pupils may leave school with. The new chapter covers:
- attainment statistics, also presented in previous releases, relating to vocational qualifications associated with Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce (section 6.1).
- Experimental Statistics on Foundation Apprenticeships (section 6.2).
- Experimental Statistics covering a wider attainment measure incorporating all SQA qualifications (section 6.3).
Experimental Statistics are new official statistics that are undergoing evaluation. Further information on the reasons for publishing these new figures under this status are presented in sections 6.2 and 6.3.
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