Exam performance gap continues in Borders schools

THE gap between the Borders best-exam performing secondary schools and the rest remains significant, national statistics have revealed.

Both Peebles and Earlston’s Standard Grade and Higher results improved again in 2011/12, placing both among the best state schools in Scotland.

However, the link between a school’s social mix and its results were all highlighted in the Scottish Schools Online figures, with Peebles and Earlston both having low numbers of pupils receiving free school meals compared to others.

Overall, schools under Scottish Borders Council’s responsibility were above the national average for both Standard Grade and Higher performances. SBC’s education executive member, councillor Sandy Aitchison admitted there was still work to do, but believes the introduction of Curriculum for Excellence – which will see Standard Grades replaced by a new system entitled National 4 and 5 at the end of 2012/13 – should make a difference, along with the Scottish Government’s new GIRFEC programme to provide greater support for children who face challenges in their lives.

Councillor Aitchison told TheSouthern: “The results show the correlation between free school meals, generally an indicator of deprivation, and the part it has to play in the exam results.

“There are a couple of pieces of work that we hope will really address this issue.

“Curriculum for Excellence, which should feed through into the Standard Grade and Higher results, and, more importantly, the GIRFEC approach.

“When you look at the results, it is quite obvious that Earlston and Peebles have done really well, and I congratulate them for that.

“But we have to try and get the other schools up to that level by getting it right for every child.

“Everyone has a contribution to make to education, and everyone has a part to play in improving education because it is so very important.”

The difficultly of interpreting exam results are highlighted in the mixture of performances by Borders schools, outwith Earlston and Peebles. Jedburgh Grammar saw a 12 per cent rise on 2010/11 in fourth year pupils gaining five or more Standard Grades at credit level – the mark generally needed to sit Highers in fifth year – but the number of Jed students passing three Highers in S5 dipped to 16 per cent, the lowest percentage of any Borders school.

Galashiels Academy showed an improvement in Higher marks but a fall in Standard Grade results.

Selkirk High’s results fell in both exam systems, yet the school remains well above the Scottish and national average.

Elsewhere, Langholm Academy, the responsibility of Dumfries and Galloway Council, showed a huge drop in Standard Grade passes, from 54 to 26 per cent.

But Councillor Aitchison said the statistics did not provide the whole story. He added: “If there was a general downward trend, then I would be concerned but you find most schools results fluctuate between each year.

“You can’t judge a school solely by its exam results. These figures only give you a snapshot and doesn’t show all the good work going on in other areas.

“For example, I know that Hawick High is putting in a lot of hard work with the Wilton Centre in the town.”

Former education executive member, Councillor George Turnbull, added: “Compared to other regions of Scotland, I think we do extremely well and that is credit to the staff.

“Teachers are working hard every day to provide quality education for our youngsters.”