Information

Summary Statistics for Attainment and Initial Leaver Destinations, No. 4: 2022 Edition

This statistical publication provides information on the educational attainment and initial destinations of 2020/21 school leavers from publicly funded schools in Scotland.

This document is part of a collection


Chapter 1: Introduction

This chapter outlines data sources, concepts and methodology associated with the data used in this report and provides information on the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on these statistics.

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 approximately three months after the end of the school year (October 2021). Destinations figures will reflect both choices made by pupils, and the opportunities available to them upon leaving school.

Last year, for 2019/20 school leavers, the start dates for some opportunities were delayed, leading to a direct impact on the destinations recorded for some pupils. The pandemic may also have affected local partnerships' ability to track some school leavers through home visits.

For 2020/21 school leavers these issues are not thought to have affected destinations data. However, it is likely that the pandemic will have continued to affect the choices made by, and opportunities available to, some school leavers.

In addition to possible ongoing direct impacts on the availability of some opportunities, the approaches taken to the certification of SQA qualifications in 2020 and 2021 (see section 1.1.2) will have affected the attainment of some school leavers. Similarly, the pandemic may have influenced pupils' decisions on when to leave school (for example, delaying leaving from 2019/20 to 2020/21). Together these factors could have affected the attainment of some school leavers, which may in turn have affected the choices and opportunities available to them.

The impact of the pandemic on school leaver destinations should be kept in mind when making comparisons between 2020/21 and 2019/20, and when comparing with earlier years.

How can I use School Leaver Destination figures?

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 - whilst bearing in mind the impact of COVID-19.

Do not use School Leaver Destination figures

  • Without considering the impact that COVID-19 may have had on the availability of particular opportunities.

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. In both 2020 and 2021 the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic led to the cancellation of exams and alternative approaches were taken to determining grades.

In 2020, National Qualifications were graded based on teacher estimates. More information on this is available in last year's publication.

In 2021 the Alternative Certification Model (ACM) required teachers and lecturers to use their professional judgement of a learner's demonstrated attainment to determine provisional results in line with subject-specific guidance. SQA carried out national quality assurance on selected courses from each school.

As the attainment data in this report considers all of the attainment which a school leaver gains over their time at school, the attainment of school leavers in 2019/20 and 2020/21 may be based on a combination of approaches to certification. This is demonstrated in Table A which shows that, for example:

  • The attainment of 2020/21 school leavers will be based on results determined through a combination of the examination and coursework approach, teacher estimates in 2020 and demonstrated attainment in 2021.
  • The attainment of those who left school in 2019/20 was based on results determined through a combination of the examination and coursework approach and the teacher estimate based approach of 2020.
  • The attainment of those who left school in 2018/19 and before will have been determined based entirely on the usual approach of examinations and coursework.
Table A: School leaver cohorts and the combination of approaches taken to determining grades in National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher
Attainment year School leaver cohort
2018/19 2019/20 2020/21
2019 (exam & coursework)
2020 (teacher estimates) X
2021 (demonstrated attainment) X X

The measures in this report focus on the highest SCQF level achieved. Typically this is gained in the final year before a pupil leaves school. For example, amongst 2020/21 school leavers, 69 per cent achieved their highest level in 2021 and 27 per cent achieved their highest level in 2020. So for many 2020/21 school leavers the demonstrated attainment approach taken in 2021 will have had the biggest impact on the attainment measures in this report. In total, 96 per cent of 2020/21 school leavers achieved their highest level in either 2020 or 2021 meaning that for almost all 2020/21 school leavers the highest level was attained in a year in which an alternative approach to certification was in place.

The impacts of these different approaches to certification upon school leaver attainment means that care should be taken when making comparisons over time. The attainment data in this report provides an accurate reflection of the attainment with which school leavers in Scotland left school; for this reason attainment data for 2020/21, 2019/20 and previous years are presented together. However, a dashed line break in the series has been placed between 2018/19 (and before) and 2019/20 (and after). This indicates that the attainment of school leavers in 2019/20 and 2020/21 has been determined differently to that for 2018/19 and before.

In addition to this, levels of attainment by 2020/21 school leavers are also likely to have been affected by any changes to pupils' decisions on staying on at school related to the pandemic. In last year's report the relative size and make-up of the 2019/20 school leaver cohort indicated that fewer S4 and S5 pupils left school in 2019/20 than might have been expected. These pupils, many of whom are likely to have instead left in 2020/21, will have had opportunities to gain more qualifications, and/or to gain qualifications at a higher level, than had they left at the end of the 2019/20 academic year. This is likely to have affected the total number of passes, and the highest level of qualification, attained by some school leavers in 2020/21.

Care must therefore be taken when comparing the attainment of 2020/21 school leavers with that of 2019/20 school leavers and when comparing these to the attainment of earlier school leaver cohorts. Any changes between the attainment levels of the 2020/21 cohort, the 2019/20 cohort and those of previous years should 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 within years.

Do not use School Leaver Attainment figures

  • As an indication that performance in 2019/20 or 2020/21 was better or worse than in previous years, without further evidence.
  • Without taking full account of the different approaches to certification in 2020 and 2021 compared to previous years.

1.2 School Leavers

A school leaver is defined as a young person of school leaving age, who left during or at the end of the school year. For 2020/21 school leavers, the leaver year is 16th September 2020 to 14th September 2021.

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).[1]

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.

1.3 School Leaver Destinations

This publication provides information on the initial destinations of 2020/21 school leavers, relating to outcomes approximately three months after the end of the school year (4th October 2021).

A separate publication - 'Summary Statistics for Follow-up Leaver Destinations' – will follow in June 2022 and will provide information on the follow-up destinations of 2020/21 school leavers, approximately nine months after the end of the school term (1st Monday in April 2022).

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 2020/21. More information can be found in section 7.2.1.

Destinations are grouped in the following categories within this statistical bulletin:

Positive Destinations

  • Higher Education
  • Further Education
  • Employment
  • Training
  • Voluntary Work
  • Personal Skills Development

Other Destinations

  • Unemployed Seeking
  • Unemployed Not Seeking
  • Unknown

1.4 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. The main 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) 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.

Qualifications included in the main measures within this publication:
SCQF Level 3 includes National 3 and Skills for Work National 3. SCQF Level 4 includes National 4, Skills for Work National 4 and National 5 (D). SCQF Level 5 includes National 5 (A-C), Skills for Work National 5 and Higher (D). SCQF Level 6 includes Higher (A-C), Skills for Work Higher and Advanced Higher (D). SCQF Level 7 includes Advanced Higher (A-C)

(Current qualifications are marked with a tick)

The publication uses the 'latest and best' approach for attainment data. This means that only the best result within a subject is counted. For example, if a pupil passes Higher Mathematics one year and Advanced Higher Mathematics the following year, only the Advanced Higher qualification will be counted when looking at how many qualifications at any level that leaver has achieved, by the time they left school.

In this publication, grade A to C (or ungraded pass) is considered a pass; if a pupil attains a D at any of these levels, this is counted as equivalent to a pass at the level below.

Highers (SCQF Level 6) are generally taken in S5 or S6 and Advanced Highers (SCQF Level 7), are generally taken in S6. Highers, sometimes along with Advanced Highers, are typically the Scottish qualifications required for entry into Higher Education.

School leavers from 2020/21 are the sixth cohort to have experienced the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) 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, including both current qualifications and older qualifications that have now been phased out (such as Intermediate 1 and Intermediate 2). Using SCQF levels to measure attainment in National Qualifications allows for broad comparisons between qualifications to be made consistently over time.

More information can be found in section 7.2.2.

1.5 Additional Qualifications

Whilst the main measures in this report focus on National Qualifications, Chapter 6 covers other qualifications that pupils may leave school with. Chapter 6 covers:

  • Attainment statistics 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.

Contact

Email: andrew.white@gov.scot

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