Borders pupils praised for making grade despite testing times

Youngsters in the Borders have been praised for making the grade in increasing numbers despite the disruption caused to their education by the coronavirus crisis.

By Darin Hutson
Tuesday, 4th August 2020, 2:59 pm
Updated Wednesday, 5th August 2020, 7:18 am
Galashiels Academy S4 pupil Amy Montgomery with her SQA results.
Galashiels Academy S4 pupil Amy Montgomery with her SQA results.

Classes having been cancelled since March due to the introduction of lockdown laws to curb the spread of the disease, pupils’ final exams were scrapped and their grades, revealed today, August 4, were instead decided by Scottish Qualifications Authority assessors based on preliminary results, coursework, feedback from teachers and, controversially, their schools’ track records.

Though that method of assessing grades has come in for criticism nationwide for denying children a chance to put right previous underachievement once in an exam room, and for risking appearing to penalise some present-day pupils for their predecessors’ shortcomings, this week’s results have been welcomed by Scottish Borders Council leader Shona Haslam and headteachers across the region.

Tweeddale East councillor Mrs Haslam said: “Exam results day is one of the most momentous events in a young person’s life at the best of times.

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Galashiels Academy S6 pupil Liam Hyslop with his exam results.

“This year’s students have been faced with an unprecedented situation and they are to be commended for the remarkable flexibility and resilience that they have shown in the circumstances.

“Teaching staff have worked extremely hard together with the SQA to make sure that the assessment process has been as fair and transparent as possible and there has been minimal impact on our young people and what they have been able to achieve.

“As a result of that determination, it is encouraging to see that the Scottish Borders has attained a set of results which demonstrate a picture of consistent achievement.

“As always, it is important to remember that every pupil is different and has their own ambitions and aims.

Peebles High School pupil Lauren Nightingale with her SQA exam results.

“For some, these results will be vital in getting a place at university, but, for many others, they will be an important step towards a job, a modern apprenticeship, further education or simply being able to take their preferred subjects and qualifications in their next school year.

“It is encouraging to see that our commitment to preparing our young people for their next steps in life continues to pay dividends, with an increasing number of them being able to leave education with higher levels of qualifications and attainment and move on to positive and sustained destinations.

“Whatever their situation, I’d like to commend the young people of the Scottish Borders on their results and hard work and thank their teachers, parents and carers for all their support, which has been especially important over these past few months.

“I certainly hope that as many as possible of our young people received the results they were hoping for.

Kelso High School's Jenni Heatlie with her SQA results.

“However, for any who didn’t, the first thing to remember is don’t panic.

“There is no wrong pathway for our young people. Everyone’s learner journey is different, and their schools or an organisation like Skills Development Scotland have staff on hand to provide all the reassurance and advice they need.

“It is impossible to compare year to year as courses and exams change, as do the pupils sitting them.

“Our aim is to ensure that our schools consistently provide the best possible opportunities for learning at all levels for our young people, and the results today are just one small part of that.”

Selkirk High S4 pupil Dylan Torrance with his exam results.

The number of exams sat across the Borders this year showed a slight rise to 13,031 with about 3,800 at higher level, 555 at advanced higher and 6,300 at national five.

The overall pass rate at grades A to C for S4 pupils at Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework level five is up by 3% to 85.5%, and overall attainment at level six remains in line with previous years at 88.66%.

The Borders remains in the top 25% nationally and well above the Scottish average for positive destinations for pupils, at 95.99%.

Assessments of S4 pupils this May in the core skills of literacy and numeracy showed an improvement on last year, with 98% picking up literacy awards, 97% national five English awards, 94% numeracy awards and 86.3% national five awards in maths.

Headteachers have joined Mrs Haslam in praising their pupils for their improved performance in the face of unprecedented problems.

Earlston High School’s Justin Sinclair said: “I am exceptionally pleased with our pupils’ SQA results this year.

Peebles High School S4 pupil Anna Tweedy with her exam results.

“In these most difficult of times, it was such a joy to see so many of our young people being recognised for the hard work they demonstrated throughout the year.

“The performance from our S4 was outstanding and our S5 and S6 achieved very high levels of attainment again this year.

“I am immensely proud of the young people of Earlston High School and their well-deserved success, reflecting all their hard work during a very challenging school year.

“I also must pay tribute to our school staff who work tirelessly for our young people. I am proud of each and every one of them.”

Galashiels Academy’s Kevin Ryalls said: “Our school vision is values, skills and qualifications to be the best we can, and we are very pleased that our exam results reflected this vision as many young people achieved very positive results this summer.

“This is testament to the hard work and dedication across a team of staff, young people and families.

“We have a strong school community based on high expectations and positive relationships. This has helped individuals and the school achieve very positive SQA outcomes.

“We are particularly proud of our S4 cohort, who will be able to build on our best national five results for at least five years.

“We are really looking forward to developing the qualifications strand of our vision with projections for an even wider range of courses and further increases in the amount of qualifications our young people achieve.”

Hawick High’s Vicky Porteous said: “I am delighted that, for the third consecutive year, we continue to see improvements in attainment in Hawick High School.

“The number of S4 candidates achieving an A-C pass in five or more subjects at national five level has increased by 8% on last year.

“Furthermore, the number of S5 students achieving an A-C pass in five or more subjects at higher level is significantly better than previous years.

“This exam diet has also seen improvements in literacy and numeracy.

“There has been a significant increase in the number of S4 students achieving a numeracy award at national five level.

“A-C passes in numeracy at national five level have also improved for S5 students, and there has been a noteable improvement in A-C passes at higher level for numeracy.

“We have maintained our strong performance in literacy at national five level, and again we have seen an improvement in A-C passes at higher level.

“In amongst the many good results, there were some tremendous individual performances from a number of our S4 and S5 students.

“We are proud of all the examination achievements of our young people in this challenging and unprecedented year. Well done to you all.

“Finally, a huge thank-you to staff, parents and young people, for their hard work, commitment and support to ensure that, despite these challenges, we continue to make significant progress in Hawick High School.”

Susan Oliver at Jedburgh Grammar Campus said: “As part of our ongoing school improvement agenda, Jedburgh Grammar Campus presented an increased number of pupils for SQA qualifications this year, particularly at nationals and highers.

“This has resulted in positive outcomes for all at every level of qualifications, especially S5 pupils achieving three or more highers at grades A to C.

“In addition, there is a positive trend for our S6 leavers also achieving more at highers this year than previously.

“We have also seen improvements in passes at national five.

“Success at advanced higher continues to be a strength, and positive outcomes at this level have been maintained again this year.

“As well as these successes, Jedburgh Grammar Campus also presented a number of senior pupils in both leadership and personal development qualifications as we look to expand our offer and meet the needs of all learners at all levels.

“Our young people have shown tremendous resilience throughout the year and particularly during the period of home learning.

“Their results are the product of ongoing work from the start of the 2019 school year and are testament to their hard work and best efforts.

“Well done to all and thank you to parents, carers, partner agencies and our community for their ongoing support.

“We can’t wait to finally welcome our children and young people to our new campus next week.”

Kelso High’s Jill Lothian said: “We are very proud of all our young people and their efforts throughout this challenging academic session.

“At Kelso High, our senior students continued to aim high and, with the support of family and staff, they worked hard towards their individual targets and goals from June 2019 through to March 2020.

“Although attainment is important, it is part of a bigger picture, and at Kelso High this is reflected in our core values – pride in ourselves, our school and our community.

“We have many positive examples of our students supporting the wider community with acts of kindness, creativity and perseverance during lockdown.

“Our young people will continue to develop their portfolio of academic results while also developing skills for life and work either by returning to school or moving on to further and higher education or employment.

“Highlights of our 2020 SQA performance include a further increase in the percentage of pupils gaining awards within national five and advanced highers.

“As a school, we will be celebrating the success of individuals and their outstanding results.

“We would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the commitment, dedication and hard work that has been shown over this challenging period by our young people, all staff, parents and carers alike.”

Peebles High’s Campbell Wilson said: “The SQA results achieved by our young people this year are even more remarkable and worthy of praise because of the incredible adversity and challenges they had to overcome.

“So many of our cohort have done incredibly well, and I am genuinely humbled and proud of their perseverance, hard work and triumph over adversity.

“The fact that there were no examinations in May was very unsettling for all learners due to sit exams, but not having sat examinations in the normal way does not in any way make the positive achievements of our students any less impressive or less reflective of their formidable abilities and efforts.

“I take this opportunity to congratulate them and to thank them for their tenacity and perseverance throughout the most challenging of sessions.

“I also want to thank the parents of our school community. Many of their children required significant emotional support at the time of the fire, and I know so many of our families helped each other to continue learning in very new and challenging circumstances.

“I hope every young person celebrating their results this week takes time to thank their families for the support they provided through the upheaval of the fire, the anxiety and challenges of lockdown learning and the uncertainty and worry generated by unprecedented and uncertain new SQA procedures.

“Finally, I would like to thank our staff. The circumstances of the year dictated that they had to work harder than ever before in an ever-changing landscape.

“They rose to every challenge admirably, and without their unstinting creativity, personal sacrifice and dedication to our young people, we may have been looking at a very different set of results.”

Selkirk High’s Jamie Bryson added: “Behind every result is a story of resilience and sacrifice, and I would like to pay tribute to all students who are receiving their results in this unprecedented year.

“Alongside outstanding individual achievements, teachers will be delighted with the positive trends at Selkirk High School.

“In addition to another strong set of results from students of national courses, higher attainment has improved on last year’s record results, with more students achieving five highers than ever before.

“It is also great to see that the strong progress of recent years has been maintained at advanced higher level.

“I know teachers will be looking forward to congratulating every one of our students in person and whatever their results upon their long-awaited return to school. We are very proud of them all.”

Gareth Williams was educated at Howdenburn Primary School then Jedburgh Grammar School. Over his six years in secondary school, he attained eight national fives grades, seven highers and two advanced highers, all at credit passes. Gareth was the last head boy of Jedburgh Grammar School with the new Jedburgh Grammar Campus opening next week. With Wednesday's news that he had attained four As in his highers, in business management and computer science, and advanced highers, in English and modern studies, he has now been accepted by Glasgow University to study Scots law. Gareth is hoping to become a lawyer within sport.