Highers maths exam ‘more demanding than intended’, exam chiefs admit

This year’s new Higher maths exam was too difficult, Scotland’s exams body has admitted.

The new Higher provoked a storm of protest when pupils sat the exam in May, with students taking to social media to complain about the level of difficulty and launching petitions demanding answers from the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

The SQA has today admitted that “the assessment proved to be more demanding than intended”. As a result, the grade boundaries were reduced to prevent students being disadvantaged, a spokesperson said.

However, the A-C pass rate among students sitting the new Higher in maths (73.1 per cent) was higher than among those taking the old version of the qualification (70.8 per cent). This year, schools were free to decide whether to opt for the old or new version of the qualification; from September, only the new version will be available.

Overall, the proportion of Scottish students achieving at least a C grade in the old Higher exam has dropped, figures published today by the SQA reveal.

Of the 92,555 candidates who sat the established exam this year, 70,981 will find out this morning that they achieved an A-C grade. The pass rate of 76.7 per cent is down slightly on last year’s figure of 77.1 per cent.

The figure is also lower than the A-C pass rate for the new Higher exams. Of the 107,295 candidates sitting the new exam, 79.2 per cent achieved at least a C.

Overall, the number of Higher passes increased by 5.5 percentage points on 2014. The figures released by the SQA also show that the number of passes for Advanced Highers increased by 4 percentage points to 18,899. This summer, 142,862 candidates sat exams including new and old Highers, Advanced Highers and Access, Intermediates and National qualifications.

Education secretary Angela Constance said the figures represented “another strong performance by Scotland’s young people”. Teaching unions also welcomed the results, calling them a credit to pupils and teachers. However, they also highlighted the pressures that teaching staff continued to be under.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said the past few years had been “a challenging time for Scottish education, with a major programme of curricular change and the introduction of new qualifications during a time of significant budgetary pressure”.

Mr Flanagan raised continued issues around “excessive teacher workload associated with the introduction of the new qualifications and the perceived over-assessment around course units, which creates pressure for both pupils and staff”.

And Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said the results showed that schools and teachers had once again pulled out all the stops to ensure pupils were supported to achieve their best.

“As the reforms continue with the introduction of the new Advanced Higher from the next academic year, it will be essential that employers take the steps necessary to address bureaucracy and excessive teacher workload to ensure that today’s exam success can be continued in the years to come,” she added.

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