Higher (Scottish)

Higher (Scottish)

In Scotland the Higher (Scottish Gaelic: An Àrd Ìre) is one of the national school-leaving certificate exams and university entrance qualifications of the Scottish Qualifications Certificate (SQC) offered by the Scottish Qualifications Authority. It superseded the old Higher Grade on the Scottish Certificate of Education (SCE). Both are normally referred to simply as ""Highers".

The modern Higher is Level 6 on the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework.


Higher Grade (Original)

SCE Higher Grade was the historical terminal exam for the majority of Scottish secondary school pupils, especially those seeking work in skilled industries or progress onto higher education. They were usually taken in the 5th Year of secondary school (often referred to as S5, and entered at age 16 or 17). It was introduced in 1962Fact|date=May 2007 and progressed on from the SCE Ordinary Grade.

Pupils studied for one academic year (in practice two terms - Winter and Spring), sitting exams in the May of S5. The majority of courses were examined by written papers with practical work present in subjects such as Art and Design.

There existed a further extension qualification, the Certificate of Sixth Year Studies, which was awarded on a separate certificate.

Higher Grade (Revised)

In 1992Fact|date=May 2007 a new series of Revised Higher Grade courses was put in place. When listed on the SCE the subject name would be followed by (Revised).

The revision process changed the curriculum content and the method of examination with the majority of Higher Grade courses changing to two terminal papers with a coursework element. Paper A was a short answer question paper and Paper B required longer, more in-depth answers. Coursework could account for anything from 0% (English) to 60% (Computing Studies) of the final mark.

By 1996 Scottish Higher Education Institutions were generally only accepting Revised Higher Grade for entry, except where a pupil was classed as a mature student (aged over 25).

Highers within the Higher Still framework

: "Main Articles see Scottish Qualifications Authority and Higher Still

Higher Still

In 1999, a reform of the examination system known as "Higher Still" took place. In the process, a new style of Higher examination system was introduced in Scotland. The new Higher was designed to operate within a framework of qualifications known as National Qualifications. This was designed to link the most basic examination offered by the SQA (Access 1) with the most difficult one (Advanced Higher) on a continuous "ladder of achievement".

Qualifications offered under the "Higher Still" framework have a common structure, typically consisting of a mixture of summative and formative assessment. Qualifications usually consist of units of work ending in a basic competency test that functions as an internal assessment (commonly known as a "NAB" as they are drawn from the National Assessment Bank), and a final terminal examination which serves to determine the final grade. In order to obtain a qualification, all the internal units for that qualification must be passed, and a passing grade must be obtained on the terminal examination. It is possible to sit the examination only, in which case "Exam Only" will be recorded on the Certificate. In some schools, all units must be passed (with two or less attempts) or the student is not be allowed to sit the final national exam.

Criticism of Modularisation
The system was criticised at the time of introduction as objections were made to the modularisation of subjects such as English and Art which require an accumulation of critical and productive skills over a full year rather than the passing of discrete modules, which was seen as a system much better suited to scientific subjects. However, strictly speaking, English teaching is not moduralised, given that the internal assessments do not assess fixed blocks of knowledge, as in the sciences, rather, they assess specific skills and can be delivered at different points in the year. The modularisation of the Higher examination and the other qualifications under the "Higher Still" umbrella is also not the same as that of the English A-level, in which terminal examinations are themselves arranged into modules. Under the Scottish system, the final examination is still essentially synoptic in nature and draw from all units. Additionally, the internally units do not contribute to the grade awarded.

Higher became Level 6 on the SCQF and is now a "National Course".

Marking controversy (2000)
: "Main Article see SQA examinations controversy (2000)

The administrative structure accompanying the new system was not entirely successful, and 2000 saw a marking fiasco that cost the head of the authority his job and severely damaged the career of the Education Minister, Sam Galbraith. Thousands of pupils received incorrect or late results, leading to difficulties for the pupils, UCAS (the University and Colleges Admissions Service) and Higher Education Institutions, as many pupils did not receive accurate exam results until after the universities' academic year had started.

As a result, for a while Revised Highers qualifications were considered superior to the new National Qualifications. Many schools refused to implement "Higher Still" when it was introduced, particularly in subjects such as English (which was frequently taken as a Revised Higher as late as 2001) due to both the administrative problems and the objection to modularisation. The situation has since stabilised and both styles of Higher are now considered equivalent.

Role in University admissions

The most able candidates in S5 typically take five Higher subjects, and matriculation requirements for courses are specified from a range from CC to AAAAA depending on the course and university. English universities may require students to study to Advanced Higher level, given that the Higher is equivalent to AS-level on the UCAS tariff. As Scottish university courses traditionally have a duration of 4 years, the loss of one year's schooling is compensated by an additional university year. The flexibility of the [National Qualifications] framework means that candidates may take a mixture of Higher courses and Intermediate 2 courses in S5, with a view to studying the Higher equivalent in S6, thus gaining university qualifications across two years. This system maximises the opportunities available to candidates of differing abilities.

Pre-determined grades

An advantage of the system is that candidates will apply to University in S6 on the basis of determined Higher results. This avoids the problem of having to apply on the basis of predicted grade results, and eliminates much uncertainty involved in the setting of conditional offers.

Current courses

All National Qualification Higher subjects follow the same modular structure and grading system. It is a common mistake to confuse vocational Higher National Courses with NQ Higher courses.


As a result of the Higher Still reforms, every Higher course now consists of:

* A compulsory core which all candidates must complete
* Optional elements which a candidate and/or centre choose to study
* Three Unit Assessments, (commonly referred to as NAB's (after the National Assessment Bank from which these assessments are selected by teachers). These are assessed by a centre and moderated by the SQA
* A final exam which determines the grade and level of pass and, where applicable, any coursework.

In order to pass a course, the candidate must pass all Unit Assessments as well as the final exam. A student who fails a Unit Assessment is allowed one re-sit opportunity on a fresh, unseen assessment but may only get a second re-sit opportunity in 'exceptional circumstances'. In theory, therefore, a student who passes all but one Unit, and goes on to pass the final exam, will nonetheless NOT be awarded the overall pass for the course until he or she has completed the outstanding Unit in a subsequent year.


Higher examinations, in common with all National Qualification levels, have 5 grades: A, B, C, D and No Award. A, B and C all indicate that the candidate has achieved the Higher, with D representing a "first fail" where a candidate just failed to achieve sufficiently to move from Intermediate 2, the next level down, and No Award represently no attainment (0 to 44% on a Standardised Scale). On standardised mark scales, a D-grade represents scores of 45-49%. Furthermore, each is given tariff points towards the UCAS system.

These are general grade boundaries and will vary by a few percentage points depending on the difficulty of the exam. The ultimate determination of grade boundaries depends upon the quantity of raw marks that would demonstrate achievement of criteria laid out in course specifications. On occasion in certain exams the pass mark for a Level C can and has ranged from 36% to 78%.


The following is a list of courses currently available at Higher level:

*Architectural Technology
*Art and Design
*Automotive Engineering
*Building and Architectural Technology
*Building Services
*Business Management
*Civil Engineering
*Classical Greek
*Classical Studies
*Chinese Language and Culture
*Early Education and Childcare
*Early Years Care and Education
*Electrical Engineering
*Fabrication and Welding Engineering
*Gaelic (Learners)
*Graphic Communication
*Human Biology
*Information Systems
*Land Use
*Managing Environmental Resources
*Mechanical Engineering
*Media Studies
*Modern Studies
*Personal and Social Education
*Physical Education
*Product Design
*Religious Education
*Religious, Moral and Philisophical Studies
*Technological Studies
*Travel and Tourism

As of session 2009/2010, Higher Mandarin Chinese will be offered.

See also

* National Qualifications
* Standard Grade
* Advanced Higher (Scottish)
* Scottish Qualifications Authority
* 2000 SQA examinations controversy

External links

* [http://www.sqa.org.uk/ Scottish Qualifications Authority official website]
* [http://www.scqf.org.uk/ Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework official website]

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