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Top marks for half pupils in non-grammar secondaries

16-06-2009

Continuing a special report on school exam performance, The Irish News has compiled a list of the non-grammar schools that scored the best GCSE grades last year. Education correspondent Simon Doyle reports

Notable improvements at GCSE level in secondary non-grammar schools mean half of all pupils are scoring top marks.

A list of schools with the best exam results last year shows that more pupils than ever are achieving the mark of at least five grades between A* and C.

In total there are 154 non-grammar schools across Northern Ireland, almost all of which do not use academic criteria to select pupils.

The 50 with the highest proportion of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C are shown today.

Official performance tables were abolished by the then education minister Martin McGuinness in 2001 following complaints that they were divisive and failed to give a rounded picture.

However, many principals continue to publicise their pupils’ academic achievements on school websites and in publications.

Today’s list does not intend to suggest that one school is better than another or that academic performance – particularly in non-grammars – should be the sole criterion for judging the quality of education on offer.

Results also fluctuate from year to year.

Every school’s results was examined prior to the table being compiled.

According to Department of Education figures, the proportion of pupils achieving five good GCSEs at schools across Northern Ireland in 2007/08 was 50 per cent – compared to 45, 43 and 40 per cent in the previous three years.

Where two or more schools had the same percentage in the list, the proportion of pupils achieving two or more A-levels at grades A to E was used as a tie-breaker.

The Northern Ireland average for those that offered A-levels was 93 per cent.

The same two schools occupy the top two spots for the third consecutive year – St Catherine’s College in Armagh is first, followed closely by St Patrick’s in Maghera.

This is unsurprising as both admit children of all abilities and St Catherine’s has long been promoted as a model for secondary education in the north.

Members of the Society of the Sacred Heart in Armagh, in consultation with parents, took a momentous decision in the early 1970s to amalgamate the Convent of the Sacred Heart grammar and inter-mediate schools to form St Catherine’s.

They were concerned at an imbalance in the education system caused by the transfer system which segregated children at 11, believing it to be unjust and un-Christian.

St Patrick’s is a so-called bilateral school, which is structured to cater for a wide range of abilities by offering two different styles of education under the one roof – one grammar and one non-grammar.

It operates a two-stage admissions process, first accepting children on the basis of academic ability – as measured by 11-plus performance – up to the maximum of 35 per cent permitted by the Department of Education.

GCSE results were used to compare non-grammar secondary schools today instead of A-levels, which were used to compile a grammar list yesterday.

This is because many secondary schools do not offer A-levels and others have very limited provision or a low number of entries.

While today’s list shows that some schools had a 100 per cent success rate at A-level, often it was because only a small number of children sat the exams.

Some schools that entered more than 50 pupils for A-levels achieved a 100 per cent pass rate (at least two E grades).

They included Little Flower in Belfast, St Pius X in Magherafelt, St Paul’s in Bessbrook and Cross and Passion in Ballycastle.

Where a school’s A-levels score appears as zero in the list, in almost every case this was because the school did not offer exams beyond GCSE level or because no pupils did A-levels there.

Pupils at Catholic secondary schools are continuing to outperform their peers in other sectors, the statistics indicate.

Most of the non-grammar schools in the top 50 are Catholic-managed – 29 in total.

There were notable performances among Catholic schools in Co Fermanagh that are involved in a major review – St Comhghall’s Lisnaskea (four on the list), St Aidan’s in Derrylin (13), St Eugene’s in Roslea (20), St Mary’s in Brollagh (29) and St Mary’s in Irvinestown (35).

Donal Flanagan, chief executive of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, said he was proud of the sector’s achievements.

He said that schools had scored better results overall despite the sector as a whole having higher levels of social deprivation.

There is an established statistical link between social background and exam performance.

Children who score poorer grades are more likely to come from areas of high social deprivation.

“What we have seen over the last couple of years is the Catholic maintained sector outperforming other sectors and this is further evidence that this is the case,” Mr Flanagan said.

“That is progress that we will maintain and continue. It is a vibrant and confident sector.”

Of the remaining 21 schools in the list, 12 were state-controlled non-Catholic and one was Irish-medium – Colaiste Feirste in Belfast.

Eight of the 50 schools were integrated – Slemish, New Bridge, Shimna, Drumragh, Lagan, Sperrin, Hazelwood and Strangford.

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