Publication - Statistics

Summary Statistics for Attainment and Initial Leaver Destinations, No. 3: 2021 Edition

Published: 23 Feb 2021

This statistical publication provides information on the educational attainment and initial destinations of 2019/20 school leavers from publicly funded schools in Scotland

Summary Statistics for Attainment and Initial Leaver Destinations, No. 3: 2021 Edition
Chapter 4: School Leaver Attainment

Chapter 4: School Leaver Attainment

  • 63.9 per cent of school leavers left with one pass or more at SCQF Level 6 or better in 2019/20.
  • 2.0 per cent of school leavers attained no passes at SCQF Level 3 or better

in 2019/20.

  • 96.2 per cent of leavers attained literacy at SCQF Level 3 or better in 2019/20.
  • Similarly, 96.1 per cent of leavers attained numeracy at this level in 2019/20.

4.1 Attainment Data

Attainment data in this section accounts for National Qualifications achieved throughout all stages of a pupil’s education at school. The range of qualifications included in the main measures in this publication can be found in the diagram in section 1.3.

The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) is used as the basis for reporting attainment. This publication reports the number of passes at a given SCQF level or better and highest SCQF level achieved at SCQF Levels 3 to 7. SCQF levels, in ascending order, indicate the level of difficulty of a particular qualification, and allow for broad comparisons to be made between qualifications. For more information, see section 7.2.2.

As outlined in section 1.1.2, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic led to the cancellation of 2020 National 5 (SCQF Level 5), Higher (SCQF Level 6) and Advanced Higher (SCQF Level 7) exams and the decision for SQA to not collect coursework or mark coursework that had already been collected. Grades in these qualifications in 2019/20 were instead based on teacher estimates. This will have affected the attainment of many 2019/20 school leavers presented in this report. For this reason 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 attainment to that of earlier years. Interpretation must take full account of the different certification methods and an increase in the attainment levels in 2019/20 should not be seen as an indication that performance has improved without further evidence.

4.2 Attainment of School Leavers

Table 4 indicates that 34.1 per cent of 2019/20 school leavers left with one pass or more at SCQF Levels 3 to 5 as their highest qualification (2.2 per cent at SCQF Level 3, 10.1 per cent at SCQF Level 4 and 21.8 per cent at SCQF Level 5). Meanwhile 63.9 per cent left with one pass or more at SCQF Level 6 or 7 (40.6 per cent at SCQF Level 6 and 23.2 per cent at SCQF Level 7); the highest level since 2009/10. This should be interpreted with care given the change in assessment method in 2020 outlined above and in section 1.1.2.

A small proportion (2.0 per cent) of school leavers attained no passes in National Qualifications at SCQF Level 3 or better in 2019/20. Some of these school leavers have attainment in other courses/units either in courses at SCQF Levels 1 or 2 or in courses/units not covered in these statistics (such as National Progression Awards, National Certificates and Awards). More information can be found in supplementary table A1.4.

Table 4: Percentage of school leavers by highest SCQF Level achieved, 2014/15 to 2019/20
SCQF Level Percentage
2014/15 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19 2019/20a
No passes at SCQF 3 or better 2.1 2.0 2.0 2.2 2.2 2.0
SCQF Level 3 1.7 1.7 1.7 1.6 1.9 2.2
SCQF Level 4 11.0 10.7 10.2 10.3 10.9 10.1
SCQF Level 5 24.9 23.9 24.9 23.8 24.5 21.8
SCQF Level 6 41.4 42.6 41.9 42.0 41.4 40.6
SCQF Level 7 18.8 19.1 19.3 20.2 19.1 23.2
Number of leavers 52,491 52,305 51,300 49,748 49,760 47,454

a. A dashed line break has been placed between the attainment figures for 2018/19 and 2019/20 school leavers reflecting the impact of the change to the assessment approach in 2020 on 2019/20 school leaver attainment. Further information can be found in section 1.1.2.

Table 5 provides information on the total attainment of school leavers at each SCQF Level or better. The table shows that 95.8 per cent of school leavers attained one pass or more at SCQF Level 4 or better in 2019/20; 85.7 per cent of leavers achieved one pass or more at SCQF Level 5 or better and 63.9 achieved one pass or more at SCQF Level 6 or better.

A time series from 2009/10 to 2019/20 is presented in the supplementary tables found in the supporting files here: https://www.gov.scot/ISBN/978-1-80004-680-1

Table 5: Leaver attainment by SCQF Level or better and number of passes achieved, percentage of leavers, 2018/19 and 2019/20
2019/20a Percentage
SCQF Level 1 pass or more 2 passes or more 3 passes or more 4 passes or more 5 passes or more 6 passes or more 7 passes or more
3 or better 98.0 96.3 94.1 91.8 88.1 81.2 67.9
4 or better 95.8 93.3 90.9 88.1 84.1 77.6 64.9
5 or better 85.7 79.2 73.0 66.4 59.2 51.0 40.5
6 or better 63.9 55.2 47.9 40.9 32.9 21.5 10.7
7 23.2 10.4 3.5 0.3 * * -
2018/19 Percentage
SCQF Level 1 pass or more 2 passes or more 3 passes or more 4 passes or more 5 passes or more 6 passes or more 7 passes or more
3 or better 97.8 96.1 94.0 91.6 87.7 80.5 66.3
4 or better 95.9 93.6 91.2 88.2 84.0 77.1 63.5
5 or better 85.1 77.6 70.5 63.4 55.8 47.8 37.6
6 or better 60.5 50.6 43.0 36.1 28.7 18.5 8.9
7 19.1 8.0 2.7 0.3 * * -

a. A dashed line break has been placed between the attainment figures for 2018/19 and 2019/20 school leavers reflecting the impact of the change to the assessment approach in 2020 on 2019/20 school leaver attainment. Further information can be found in section 1.1.2.

4.3 Attainment by Deprivation

In 2017, the Scottish Government consulted on proposals for measuring the poverty related attainment gap and milestones towards closing it; focusing on the impact of the education system as a whole and using a range of measures that reflect key stages of the learner journey and the breadth of issues that can impact on attainment.

The outcome was a basket of 11 key measures (supported by 15 sub-measures) of the attainment gap, three of which are based on school leaver attainment by deprivation, namely:

  • The proportion of leavers attaining one pass or more at SCQF Level 4 or better
  • The proportion of leavers attaining one pass or more at SCQF Level 5 or better
  • The proportion of leavers attaining one pass or more at SCQF Level 6 or better

Chart 4 shows the proportions of school leavers from the most and least deprived areas who attained 1 pass or more at SCQF Levels 4 or better, 5 or better and 6 or better. As described in Section 1.1.2, care should be taken when making comparisons between 2019/20 and earlier years and any increase or decrease should not be interpreted as indicating improving or worsening performance without further evidence.

The gap between the proportion of school leavers from the most deprived and least deprived areas attaining 1 pass or more at SCQF Level 4 or better, was 7.1 percentage points. This is up from 6.7 percentage points in 2018/19 due to a small reduction in the proportion of leavers from the most deprived areas who attained a pass at this level. Following a steady reduction in the gap between 2009/10 (11.3 percentage points) and 2016/17, the gap has widened each year and in 2019/20 is the widest it has been since 2012/13.

At SCQF Level 5 or better, the gap was 20.8 percentage points in 2019/20. This is up from 20.2 percentage points in 2018/19. The proportion attaining 1 pass or more has increased slightly for school leavers from the most deprived areas but increased by more for those from the least deprived areas which has led to the gap widening.

Between 2009/10 and 2016/17 the attainment gap at SCQF Level 5 or better reduced steadily from 33.3 percentage points to 19.3 percentage points. Since then it has increased to 20.8 percentage points in 2019/20.

At SCQF Level 6 or better, the gap was 36.1 percentage points in 2019/20. This is up from 35.8 percentage points in 2018/19. The proportion attaining 1 pass or more has increased for both school leavers from the most and least deprived areas but has increased by more for those from the least deprived areas which has led to the gap widening slightly. Over the longer term, the gap has reduced from 45.6 percentage points in 2009/10.

Chart 4: Percentage of school leavers by attainment at SCQF Level 4 to 6 or better, by SIMD 1 quintile, 2009/10 to 2019/20 a

pp = percentage point difference between most and least deprived quintile

1. Based on SIMD 2016. More information on the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation can be found at: http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/SIMD.

a. A dashed line break has been placed between the attainment figures for 2018/19 and 2019/20 school leavers reflecting the impact of the change to the assessment approach in 2020 on 2019/20 school leaver attainment. Further information can be found in section 1.1.2.

4.4 Attainment by Pupil Characteristics

Table 6 shows school leaver attainment by pupil characteristic, such as sex and ethnicity. It shows that females are continuing to outperform males at SCQF Levels 4 to 6 or better with the gap being wider at higher SCQF levels.

Pupils recorded as Asian-Chinese continue to have the highest level of attainment, with 92.5 per cent achieving one pass or more at SCQF Level 6 or better. Pupils with a recorded Additional Support Need (ASN) are less likely to achieve SCQF Levels 4 to 6 or better, than pupils without an ASN. Pupils living in Remote Rural areas are the most likely to achieve at SCQF Levels 4 ,5 and 6 or better.

Table 6: Percentage of school leavers by attainment at SCQF Level 4 to 6 or better, by pupil characteristic, 2018/19 and 2019/20
Pupil Characteristic Percentage
2018/19 2019/20a
1 or more at SCQF Level 4 or better 1 or more at SCQF Level 5 or better 1 or more at SCQF Level 6 or better 1 or more at SCQF Level 4 or better 1 or more at SCQF Level 5 or better 1 or more at SCQF Level 6 or better
Sex Male 95.2 82.6 54.5 95.0 83.2 57.8
Female 96.6 87.5 66.8 96.6 88.3 70.1
Ethnicity1 White - Scottish 95.9 84.9 59.7 95.7 85.2 62.7
White - non-Scottish 95.5 84.1 61.1 95.5 86.1 65.3
White - UK n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
White - Other n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Mixed or multiple ethnic groups 96.7 89.5 71.8 95.5 89.7 70.2
Asian - Indian * 93.7 76.7 * * 82.3
Asian - Pakistani 97.9 92.7 72.7 99.0 94.0 80.4
Asian - Chinese 100.0 97.4 91.7 * * 92.5
Asian - Other * 90.6 77.1 97.0 92.6 79.9
African/ Black/ Caribbean2 97.8 91.0 70.6 97.1 93.8 78.2
All other categories3 89.3 73.9 55.3 93.7 85.4 65.4
Not Disclosed/Not known 90.8 79.5 55.3 92.8 79.7 61.7
Urban/Rural Large Urban Areas 95.7 85.0 62.0 95.7 85.9 65.9
Other Urban Areas 95.3 83.8 58.4 95.4 83.8 61.0
Accessible Small Towns 96.9 85.9 62.5 96.3 86.8 65.8
Remote Small Towns 95.4 84.2 57.1 95.1 85.0 59.1
Accessible Rural 96.9 87.2 62.8 96.6 88.6 66.9
Remote Rural 97.2 87.9 62.2 97.0 89.8 67.0
Additional Support Needs4
ASN 90.7 69.8 39.3 90.8 71.4 43.3
No ASN 98.3 92.2 70.5 98.5 93.5 75.1
All Leavers 95.9 85.1 60.5 95.8 85.7 63.9

* percentages based on fewer than 5 pupils have been suppressed for disclosure and quality reasons

a. A dashed line break has been placed between the attainment figures for 2018/19 and 2019/20 school leavers reflecting the impact of the change to the assessment approach in 2020 on 2019/20 school leaver attainment. Further information can be found in section 1.1.2.

1. Some categories have been grouped together due to small numbers. Some categories (typically ‘Asian – Indian’, ‘Asian – Chinese’ contain between 100-200 leavers and due to relatively small numbers may be subject to fluctuation. Comparisons between groups should take this into account.

2. The 'African/Black/Caribbean' category includes 'African', 'African - Other', 'Caribbean or Black' categories

3. 'All other categories' includes 'Other - other' and 'Other - Arab'.

4. Pupils who have a Coordinated Support Plan (CSP), Individualised Educational Programme (IEP) or Child’s Plan are assessed or declared disabled or have another need.

Broad patterns in attainment by pupil characteristic are typically stable year on year, although small numbers in some characteristic groups mean fluctuations do occur. Table 6 shows that, compared to 2018/19, a higher percentage of 2019/20 school leavers achieved one pass or more at SCQF Level 5 or better and SCQF Level 6 or better across almost all characteristic breakdowns. Comparisons between years should take into account the effect of the change in assessment method in 2020 which will affect the attainment of many 2019/20 school leavers.

4.5 Literacy and Numeracy

Literacy and numeracy are key skills for any school leaver. Literacy is taken to be the ability to communicate by reading, writing, and listening and talking. Numeracy is defined as the ability to use numbers in order to solve problems by counting, doing calculations, measuring, and understanding graphs and charts.

A range of courses are included in the literacy and numeracy measures, as set out in background note 7.2.2. These courses are selected based upon the outcomes and assessment standards for SQA’s literacy and numeracy units at National 3, 4 and 5, with the key criterion being: the main purpose of the qualification or award is to improve literacy and/or numeracy skills.

When looking at achievement in literacy and numeracy, a pass in relevant units (rather than full qualifications, for example) counts as achieving literacy or numeracy at that level. With unit based courses, a pupil who did not pass the course, but achieved the relevant units, would be counted as achieving literacy or numeracy at that level. Mandatory unit assessments were removed from National 5s in 2017/18 and from Highers in 2018/19. This means that it is no longer mandatory for a pupil to complete unit assessments in order to achieve National 5 and Higher qualifications. This change is likely to have an effect on the literacy and numeracy attainment figures.

Table 7 shows the percentage of 2019/20 school leavers attaining literacy and numeracy at SCQF Levels 3 to 5 or better. At each level, more leavers attained literacy skills than numeracy skills, and this was more marked at higher SCQF levels.

At SCQF Level 3 or better, 96.2 per cent of leavers attained literacy and 96.1 per cent of leavers attained numeracy. 93.9 per cent of leavers attained literacy at SCQF Level 4 or better, whilst 91.6 per cent attained numeracy skills at this level. Similarly, 81.7 per cent of leavers attained literacy at SCQF Level 5 or better, whilst 71.0 per cent attained this level in numeracy.

Table 7: Leaver attainment in literacy and numeracy by SCQF Level, percentage of leavers, 2016/17 to 2019/20 a
SCQF Level Percentage
Literacy Numeracy
2016/17 2017/18 2018/19 2019/20 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19 2019/20
3 or better 96.5 96.3 96.1 96.2 96.3 95.8 95.8 96.1
4 or better 94.4 94.3 93.9 93.9 90.7 90.8 91.4 91.6
5 or better 80.8 81.6 81.7 81.7 68.8 69.1 68.7 71.0

a. As described above caution should be exercised if making comparisons over time.


Contact

Email: andrew.white@gov.scot