Pupils at Scotland’s top-performing secondary schools are twice as likely on average to attain the ‘gold standard’ of five Highers, new league tables show.
NationalWorld is today publishing the Scottish high school league table 2023, alongside its sister titles across the nation.
Glasgow’s Jordanhill School has retained the top spot in the table, a position it has held for at least seven years. 89% of its pupils left school with at least five Highers in 2022, more than double the national average of 39%.
The through-school, located in the city’s leafy West End, teaches children from the ages of five to 18 and is the only mainstream school funded directly by the Scottish Government rather than its local authority. It is one of four schools where twice as many pupils leave with five or more Highers or equivalent, when compared with the national average.
The others are Bearsden Academy in East Dunbartonshire, where 80% of pupils passed at least five Highers last year, St Ninian's High School in East Renfrewshire, with 79% and Woodfarm High School, also in East Renfrewshire, with a figure of 78%. The rankings are based on figures published by the Scottish Government, although the administration disapproves of league tables. See how your local school fares using this searchable table:
Can’t see the table? View it on Flourish.
Jordanhill School rector John Anderson praised the school’s “fantastic team of teachers and support staff”.
He told The Scotsman: “School success is multi-variable with so many factors influencing exam results. "One key factor is the involvement of parents. We know that we are very fortunate to benefit from an engaged and involved parent body who work with us to help young people achieve.
"Another factor is our recognition that all school years are important. Learning builds upon prior learning which means that our investments in primary and early secondary really help pupils as they move into the exam years.
"Being an all-through school gives us a significant advantage with this factor.”
Bannockburn High School in Stirling is the most improved school, having moved up more than 200 places in the rankings in the past five years.
Across Scotland, 39% of school leavers in 2022 had gained at least five Highers, or equivalent, the figures show.
This is lower than the previous two years, when the Covid-19 pandemic meant exams were cancelled and teacher assessments used to award grades, but higher than pre-pandemic levels.
These league tables are based on the percentage of pupils at each school who achieved the Scottish Government’s educational “gold standard” of five Highers, or their equivalent, in 2022.
We have compiled them using exam performance data published by the Scottish Government. Where schools are tied, we have looked at the share of pupils passing four or more Highers, then three or more if necessary, to determine the ranking.
Throughout our coverage, we use ‘Highers’ as a term to mean both Highers and equivalent qualifications at SCQF level 6 and above, such as Skills for Work Higher awards.
Exam league tables do not rank schools from ‘best to worst’, as they do not take into account factors such as teaching quality, the number of pupils with special educational needs or whether the school serves a disadvantaged area.
The Scottish Government says presenting exam performance figures in league tables is “misleading” because it overlooks such aspects but we and our sister titles across Scotland have published them to provide parents with important information they can consider alongside inspection reports and other ways to assess the quality of local schools.
Our tables of ‘most improved’ schools shows how their placement in the Scotland-wide league table has changed over the past five years. It does not show how much exam performance at that school has changed. A school’s exam performance may have risen, but if these are outpaced by higher rises at other schools, they will still fall down the rankings. Similarly, it does not show whether teaching quality has improved at a school, which is better assessed through inspections.
Some schools have moved rapidly up the league table rankings over the past five years, analysis shows. There are around 350 schools in the league table each year, with the number fluctuating slightly each time.
The school with the biggest improvement in rankings since 2017 is Bannockburn High School in Stirling, which has moved up 208 places in the rankings, from 294th in Scotland in 2017 to 86th in 2022. This is followed by Port Glasgow High School in Inverclyde, which moved up 196 places, and Whitburn Academy in West Lothian, up 183 places.
The 10 'most improved' schools since 2017:
- Bannockburn High School, Stirling: Up 208 places
- Port Glasgow High School, Inverclyde: Up 196 places
- Whitburn Academy, West Lothian: Up 183 places
- Castlemilk High School, Glasgow City: Up 158 places
- Barrhead High School , East Renfrewshire: Up 155 places
- Milne's High School, Moray: Up 153 places
- All Saints Secondary School, Glasgow City: Up 151 places
- West Calder High School, West Lothian: Up 139 places
- Ullapool High School, Highland: Up 134 places
- Falkirk High School, Falkirk: Up 131 places
- Glenrothes High School, Fife: Up 131 places
‘Record investment of £1 billion’
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “The Scottish Government does not produce league tables as they do not take full account of the context of individual schools when making comparisons between them. There are a variety of factors which influence attainment, many of which are outwith the control of the school, but which can have a significant impact on learning and achievement.”
The spokesperson said the impact of both the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis meant young people needed “our support now more than ever”, adding: “The Scottish Government is determined to do all it can to ensure children and young people can reach their full potential, including a record investment of £1 billion over this parliamentary term in the Scottish Attainment Challenge.”
Stephen Kerr MSP, Scottish Conservative shadow cabinet secretary for education, accused the SNP of “shambolic mismanagement of Scotland’s school system”.
He said: “We will always prioritise the welfare of our young people. We would encourage schools to cluster, and work together to share the best possible practice so that pupils can thrive across all local authorities.”
League tables are often seen as a blunt instrument to measure exam performance by as they fail to take into account the types of pupil attending each school.
As a result, the Scottish Government gives each school a ‘virtual comparator’ - a group of pupils from elsewhere in Scotland with the same characteristics as the pupils in the school, in terms of their gender, the number with additional support needs and societal factors such as deprivation levels. The attainment levels of this comparator group is then used as a benchmark to measure the school’s actual performance against.
Across Scotland, 41% of schools had more pupils getting five Highers than their virtual comparator, while 52% scored worse than their benchmark and the rest scored the same.
But small-town schools performed particularly poorly, with almost three-quarters (73%) doing worse than their virtual comparator, our exclusive analysis shows.
Best performing local authorities
Schools in East Renfrewshire were most likely to be in the 2023 league table’s top 50 places. Six out of its seven secondary schools were placed in the top 50, with its top performer, St Ninian's High School, ranked third in the whole of Scotland.
At the other end of the scale, schools in Angus were most likely to be in the league table’s bottom 50 places, with half of its eight schools falling into this section.
When schools were compared against their ‘virtual comparator’ benchmarks, both East Renfrewshire and West Lothian scored very well.
Every school in both areas outperformed their benchmark figures by at least five percentage points.
Argyll and Bute fared the worst, with more than half of its schools (56%, or five out of nine schools) underperforming by at least five percentage points, compared to their benchmarks.