Scots fear literacy fall as 40% fail Higher English

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The Independent Online

A big fall in the number of pupils passing Higher English exams has fuelled fears about declining standards of literacy in Scotland.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) disclosed yesterday that the Higher English pass rate was 59.2 per cent this year compared with 64.7 per cent last year. This year's figure was more than 13 percentage points lower than the 2001 pass rate of 72.4 per cent.

As pupils received their results yesterday for Standard Grade exams and the Higher qualifications, which are needed for university admission, the SQA admitted that this year's pass rate in English had been lower than expected. Almost 13,000 of 30,000 candidates had failed the exam.

But the Higher maths pass rate was higher than in previous years, with a rise from 64.3 per cent in 2002 to 66.8 per cent.

David Fraser, chief executive of the SQA, said: "The overall pass rate has remained steady, which indicates that while teachers and lecturers are preparing more candidates to take more qualifications at this level, the overall standard of attainment is maintained."

The SQA blamed the drop in English passes on schools pushing forward candidates who were not up to standard. More than a quarter of this year's entrants received marks of 30 per cent or less.

Peter Peacock, the Scottish Education minister, said: "The pass rate generally is marginally up, and within that we have seen people getting more A grades, so the quality of the pass is improving.'' Another reason for the drop in English pass rates was the restructuring of exams, which had put more emphasis on external assessment, he said.

An SQA spokesman said: "The increase in passes is marginal, but if we had a big fluctuation we could be open to suggestions that we are making the exams more difficult or dumbing down. We are maintaining the standard.''