30 May 2022

Highers are important, but it's important to recognise the value in all learning and work experience

As a council we are sometimes asked about the percentages of young people leaving school with five Highers. Head of Education Vincent Docherty has taken some time to explain why this is no longer a fair comparison of how well schools are doing.

Vincent explains: "Secondary schools across Aberdeenshire all benefit from teams of excellent, highly skilled staff.

"We no longer measure the success of a school based on how many pupils leave with five Highers and instead look at a range of measures including the number of young people who go on to a positive destination, and how many continue to engage fully in their chosen path post-school. For many of our schools this figure is above 97% and well above the national average."

The statistics published by the Scottish Government also reflect this focus on positive destinations and looking at a range of measures of attainment.

Vincent adds: "Our success is testament to the dedication and enthusiasm of colleagues to help young people pursue their dreams and realise their potential. The journey doesn’t end at school and as we also know many colleges, universities and employers are looking for a broader range of skills than solely academic qualifications. This includes young people’s learning within their community, work-based learning and bespoke and vocational qualifications related to the courses or roles they are applying for.

"Some schools have many more young people who choose to leave school after S4 and before they can sit Highers. This doesn’t mean they didn’t perform well up to that point or that they don’t enjoy high levels of ongoing success, especially given there are now so many different pathways to gaining a degree or other professional qualifications and/or work experience.

"Many schools in Aberdeenshire now also have a high number of pupils enjoying Foundation Apprenticeships. While these qualifications are not included in statistics relating to Highers specifically, these qualifications are often recognised as Higher passes by universities.

"Aberdeenshire is recognised across Scotland for our leading approach to the development and expansion of these types of qualifications.

"Colleagues work incredibly hard to ensure our young people are successful both in school and in their future pathways and we are very proud to be delivering a wide variety of opportunities for all.”

Scottish 'league tables' as they are referred to by some media outlets do not exist. They have chosen one measure from which to rank schools and you can find a true reflection of all measures used to assess schools by following the Scottish Government's link above.

As the exam period draws to a close, it is important to offer reassurance to young people too about the wide range of options available to them, whether they gain the results they hope for or not.

Vincent adds: "There are so many routes to help you get where you would like to be. It really is important to recognise that. Please also know support is available if you would like help to explore those different routes.

"Well done to everyone who has taken part in exams over the last few weeks, and thanks to colleagues and families for being so supportive and helping young people persevere through the last few difficult years."

For more support:
For inspiration and reassurance for young people waiting for or receiving their exam results, have a chat with your guidance teacher in the first instance. You can also visit:

Aberdeenshire Council has commissioned two online mental health and wellbeing tools suitable for young people aged 10 to 18 ( and 16+ ( You can use these anonymously and for free to access advice, support, peer-led articles, self-assessment and more.

Young Scot have some really good health and wellbeing resources on their website: and a series of YouTube videos with mindfulness activities.

Mind offers lots of information and tips for young people and parents:

Visit the mental health page of Aberdeenshire Council's website for more information on mental health support available locally: