Schools do poorly in Highers league table

Forty two per cent of pupils at Lerwick's Anderson High School achieved five Highers or more, fewer than expected according to a government benchmark. Photo: Shetland News

A LEAGUE table published in a national newspaper which showed Shetland as being among the worst performing local authorities in Scotland when it comes to higher education has raised some eyebrows in the isles.

The table, published on the front page of the Scottish edition of The Times last week, compared the number of pupils who achieve five Highers or more against the government set benchmark of what each school is expected to achieve based on the characteristics of the roll of individual schools.

Shetland comes in at fifth from bottom with -4.5 per cent points, performing significantly poorer than Orkney and the Western Isles which were ranked fourth and fifth (+5 per cent points and +6.3 respectively).

Education professionals in the isles, however, have warned against an over reliance on statistics.

Last year, 45 per cent of pupils attending the Anderson High School in Lerwick were expected to pass five or more Highers according to the benchmark (or virtual comparator), yet only 42 per cent did so.

The figures for Brae High are even worse at 34 per cent pass rate, six per cent points below the benchmark.

In comparison, 37 per cent of pupils at Kirkwall Grammar School were expected to pass five Highers or more, whereas 38 per cent did.

And 49 per cent of pupils at Stromness Academy received five Highers or more, outperforming the school’s benchmark by a massive nine per cent points.

Scotland’s top performing state schools are based in East Renfrewshire and East Dunbartonshire where well above 50 per cent and sometimes as many as 70 per cent of pupils pass five Highers or more.

None of the seven high schools in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles are ranked among the top 50 state schools in Scotland.

Shetland Islands Council’s head of children services Helen Budge said the local authority was working closely with schools to help pupils achieve the best possible results.

And she was critical of the way the information was compiled with no transparency as to why Kirkwall was benchmarked differently than Lerwick, for example.

She said the figures should be taken with a pinch of salt as factors such rural deprivation do not appear to have been taken into account.

“We recognise that the results that we have reflect that our young folk are doing as best as they possibly can. We have some very good results but in comparing these with the benchmark it doesn’t look so good,” Budge said.

“You are not comparing likes with likes here. You are comparing whatever Orkney’s comparator (benchmark) is with Shetland schools comparators, but not schools with schools.”

Local officer with teaching union EIS, Matthew Moss, said league tables of any kind were a “blunt instrument and in isolation do not present an accurate picture of how successful any school is”.

He continued saying: “The number of Highers in any one sitting are not the only measure that is used by schools and local authorities. For example positive destination data is very important for young people and their parents.

“From experience we also know that over simplistic approaches to attainment measuring do not fully take into account other important factors such as ASN, social factors, local employment opportunities, etc.

“However, we must remain alert to the possibility that years of reducing education budgets in Shetland, including significant reductions in secondary and ASN teacher numbers may at some point begin to have a negative impact on attainment.”

Chairman of the council’s education committee George Smith added that there was little difference between island schools when comparing the actual achievements of pupils.

“At the end of the day though what we are striving to do is ensure that all our pupils can achieve their potential – this against a backdrop of reducing resources over the last number of years.”

The individual figures for every school can be found on the Parentzone Scotland website at under Find a school>school level data>awards gained by level.