The number of young people achieving A-C grades across National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses is at its highest level in five years according to data published today.

I’d like to congratulate our young people for their achievements during a very challenging period. You have all showed huge resilience and determination.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority results data also recorded increases  in English and Maths, an area of focus, across all Higher accreditation levels, and in English at National 5.

A total of 12,680 resulted awards were certificated for 2,533 candidates across the county in 2021, an increase on last year (11,239 / 2,349). 
Alternative Certification Model
A revised Alternative Certification Model (ACM) was developed following the cancellation of the 2021 National Qualifications examinations to cover the awarding of National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses in 2020-21. The 2021 results are based on demonstrated learner attainment using assessments that were developed to meet national standards set by the SQA. As such, the 2021 results are not directly comparable to 2020 results, which were based on teacher estimates of achievement, or to previous exam diet years. However East Lothian Council’s Education Team has analysed the results in relation to the five-year historical average covering exam diets 2015 to 2019 to provide context.

Overall, the percentage achieving A-C awards in SQA courses was up 4% in 2021 at 86% compared to a five-year historical average of 82% across SQA diet from 2015 to 2019.

Key highlights by SQA level are:

National 2 to National 4

  • National 2, National 3 and National 4 qualifications are made up of units which are internally assessed as pass or fail by the school or college, and externally quality-assured by SQA.
  • There were seven awards certificated at National 2, 321 awards at National 3 and 1930 awards at National 4. 
  • The number of pupils presented for National 2 and National 3 awards were broadly in line across the five-year period, with a slight drop at National 4 (2015-2019: 2238).

National 5

  • 82% of candidates presented for National 5 qualifications achieved A-C grades, an increase of 4% on the five-year average (78%).
  • There was an increase in the number of S4 presentations at National 5; the number of S4 pupils achieving one or more awards at National 5 or better was up 4% on the five-year average (80.3% compared to 76.7%). 
  • The number of S4 pupils achieving three or more awards at National 5 improved by 12% to 64% with those achieving five or more awards also 12% above the five-year average at 49%.
  • Overall, the pass rate for National 5 English was 5% above the five-year average at 92% while Maths was in line with the five-year average at 64%. 


  • 85% of all candidates presented for Higher qualifications in 2021 achieved A-C grades. This is an increase 8% on the five-year average. 
  • S5 presentations for Highers improved slightly on previous years with achievement rates also rising amongst that group (92% compared to 81% 5yr average).
  • Overall, the pass rate across all year groups for Higher English increased by 7% from 80% (5yr average) to 87% in 2021.
  • Pass rates for Maths also increased at Higher level from 74% (5yr average) to 78%.
  • By the end of S5, increases showed across all three Higher measures for the original S4 cohort:
    • 62% of pupils achieved one or more Highers (up 5% on 5yr average)
    • 41% achieved three or more Highers (up 5% on 5yr average)
    • 19% achieved five or more Highers (up 2% on 5yr average)
  • By the end of S6, increases also showed across the three Higher measures:
    • 66% of pupils achieved one or more Highers (up 4% on 5yr average)
    • 54% achieved three or more Highers (up 9% on 5yr average)
    • 42% achieved five or more Highers (up 10% on 5yr average).

Advanced Highers

  • The number of S6 pupils presented for Advanced Highers increased 11% on the historical average (5yr ave 41%) to 52% of the S6 cohort with pass rates 8% above the 5 yr average (87% in 2021 compared with 79% - 5yr average) 
  • The percentage of the original S4 cohort achieving one or more Advanced Highers by the end of S6 also improved by 9% from 22% (5yr average) to 31% in 2021.

The SQA diet 2021 results do not include Foundation Apprenticeships, college partnership or vocational qualifications. 


Cabinet member for Education and Children’s Services Councillor Fiona Dugdale said: 
“The unique circumstances surrounding the examination picture for last year and this year means that direct comparison is not possible, nor is it advised by the SQA. Analysing the figures in the context of the last five years of results gives us a clearer picture of attainment.

“I’m very pleased to see that attainment rates in East Lothian across all SQA stages are at their highest level since 2015. Clearly this is something that we will seek to build on to ensure all our young people are supported to achieve their goals.
“I’d like to congratulate our young people for their achievements during a very challenging period. You have all showed huge resilience and determination – qualities that are essential in life. I’d also like to thank our secondary school teams for the support and guidance they provided and their work to adapt to a new model. A huge additional amount of work was dedicated to the moderation process to make sure that our pupils’ attainment was properly reflected. 

“It’s important to remember that these results mark a moment in time but they do not define your worth or your value. To anyone who is unsure about their results please speak to your family, school or the national Skills Development Scotland helpline to explore your options.”

Skills Development Scotland results helpline: 0808 100 8000 or   

Published: Tuesday, 10th August 2021