Scots School Bucks the Exam Trend as Pupil Jets off to Canada

Scots School Bucks the Exam Trend as Pupil Jets off to Canada

31 August 2023

Pupils and teachers from Scotland’s oldest all girls’ school, St Margaret’s School for Girls in Aberdeen, recently celebrated their best Higher exam results in two decades, bucking the national trend of a declining SQA pass rate, with a number of students from the school going on to an impressive range of further education pathways.

While the school’s performance in public examinations has been consistently high, this year witnessed the highest performance in decades for St Margaret’s with an outstanding 99.3% pass rate for fifth year pupils, with 90.1% of these awarded at A or B level, whilst sixth year leavers attained an excellent 93% pass rate and are heading on to an impressive range of further education pathways.

Among those celebrating is Ava Airnes who was offered an unconditional place at the University of Toronto, Canada, to study Economics. This also offers her the opportunity to pursue her passion for hockey, having been selected to play for the institution’s team, the Varsity Blues.

Ava took the time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions on her experience attending an all girls’ school, how important hockey is to her and her upcoming move across the ocean.

Tell me about your time at St Margaret’s School for Girls?

Academic excellence; St Margarets gives you the chance to be the best you can be and ‘Megs’ always seems to produce outstanding academic results. I’ve always been quite young for my year group and being in smaller class sizes with only girls gave me the chance to be an active participant in class. That has always helped me to be a little more confident than perhaps I might have been in a different environment, or at another school. It’s also really nice to be part of a community where everyone knows each other and in turn look out for each other. I was a beneficiary of mentor and paired reading programmes and really enjoyed taking on those roles in senior years.

There really isn’t anything you can’t do or at least try at St Margaret’s! Whether it’s with academics in class, in performing arts or in sports you will find the support of the school to help you. It’s where I had my first taste of hockey and inspired me to join my local club.

When did you find out that you had been offered an unconditional place to study at the University of Toronto? Was this your first choice?

I received my offer in February, quite early in the cycle. Most offers for universities in the USA and Canada are typically issued in March and April. I only applied to a handful, having considered each on its academic record, city and sports programmes. Each was special in its own way however I was fortunate enough to visit the university in Toronto as part of the process and this was compelling. I knew straight after that trip that I wanted to go there.

Is there a big emphasis on sport at universities in Canada, did this help to sway your mind when initially deciding where to study?

Yes, just like in the USA, varsity sports are huge in Canada and incredibly well supported. The University in Toronto has over 40 sports that compete nationally – everything from basketball to golf and of course field hockey. They have world class facilities and also the resources to support varsity sports. Games and competitions are really well attended, some sports have thousands of spectators(!) and students take great pride in supporting their own varsity teams. You can also play at various levels of competition or participate for fun too and there’s literally hundreds of sports clubs within the university. In my off season I plan to join the ski club which typically has a few hundred members, lots of socials and of course weekly ski trips to various resorts in Provence and beyond!

Why Canada, have you been before?

I was actually born in Canada but left when I was only a few months old. I’ve been lucky enough to have visited a few times on vacation to Calgary and Vancouver and always had a brilliant time, it’s such a beautiful country. I have a few friends that I played hockey with in the past who have been on their study abroad year in Canada and each of them had brilliant experiences and gave such good feedback so that definitely influenced my decision.

Hockey is clearly something that you’re very passionate about. Did you pick the University of Toronto due to its sporting opportunities?

The first priority for me was the academic reputation of the university and the programme. The University of Toronto is a ‘Top 20 Internationally Ranked University’ and the economics programme, which I will study, itself is world class so that was really important to me.

Secondly was the city itself – I really wanted to be in a ‘big city’ that is truly global with not only people that are diverse but with opportunities and activities that are varied and plentiful. Sport (and clubs) was also an important consideration and yes, the chance to play varsity hockey is super exciting!

For anyone looking to follow in your footsteps, can you tell me a little about the Varsity Blues recruitment process?

It’s quite a lengthy process to be recruited for Varsity Blues, like any varsity programme and as an international student it has some added complexity as the coaches don’t always have the chance to see you play in real-time. All in all it was about a six month process and you start roughly one year ahead of your year of entry. There’s various questionnaires and applications to complete that the coaches use to assess potential suitability. From there, if they have interest it’s the submission of video that gets analysed, then trials, interviews and even fitness testing! It’s a really competitive process and this year the university has taken six field hockey recruits of which I’m pleased to be one of.

Can you talk about the importance of hockey and taking part in extracurricular activities at school?

I started playing hockey at St Margaret’s in P5 on the grass pitches at Summerhill and really enjoyed it. As I got older it was amazing to be playing against other local schools and then ultimately against schools up and down the country. There is nothing better than scoring against a rival school! I remember I used to watch the schools first XI as they often played near my house and I would imagine playing for them.

I played my first game for them when I was in just S3 and it was a real honour to go on years later and captain the team. We only lost two games this year, ironically both in the Scottish Cup so we had a good season and of course we beat our local ‘rivals’. At club level I played my first full season as a named first XI player for Granite City. I’ve been at the club since I was 11 and played through each of the five ladies teams over the years.

This last year St Margaret’s has added a specific hockey coach and introduced strength and conditioning training which I’m certain has helped us improve. And that’s one of the great things about our school, they really do encourage and support activities beyond the classroom. I would encourage everyone to join a club or sign up for extra curricular activities. They’re a brilliant way of relaxing, to try something new or to improve and develop existing skills. For me hockey has been an amazing constant, a welcome break from study and has introduced me to so many new friends.

Lastly, but importantly, what will you miss most about being away from Scotland?

My friends and family for sure but I’m really looking forward to their visits later this year. I’m hoping they’ll remember to bring me Percy Pigs! I’ll definitely miss my cockapoo Bernie and will look forward to seeing her at Christmas. I’m sure I’ll miss Granite City and the club members but hope that Varsity Blues will be a great substitute!

St Margaret’s School for Girls creates an environment which offers pupils the space in which their intellectual and physical identity can blossom, a space which is free from stereotype, full of challenge and rich with opportunity and care. Physical education from nursery onwards introduces girls to a diverse range of sporting activities. Teams are often entered for competitions in many disciplines and have gained significant successes over the years, including in hockey, athletics and horse riding.

For more information on St Margaret’s School for Girls please visit or call the admissions office on (01224) 584466.

Member Zone

Lost your password?
Find a school Login