General Teaching Council Northern Ireland

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Religion less key to choice of school


10/10/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish News

More and more Protestant children are being enrolled in Catholic schools as their parents choose quality education over religion, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools has heard.

High standards of academic success in the sector are attracting a "small but growing" number of Protestant pupils, according to Donal Flanagan, the council's chief executive.

Mr Flanagan's remarks came as he unveiled figures showing the Catholic maintained sector continuing to outperform the mainly Protestant 'controlled' sector at GCSE level.

He told a CCMS meeting yesterday that children from ethnic communities were also opting for Catholic schools because of the higher chance of gaining academic success.

"As a consequence of the year on year improvement within the sector, there is clear evidence that a growing number of children from ethnic communities - who would have in the past enrolled in the controlled sector - are now focusing on the maintained sector," he said.

"There is also anecdotal evidence that a smaller but growing number of people from other denominations are enrolling their children in the Catholic maintained sector."

Mr Flanagan's comments appear to show that parents are beginning to choose schools for their children by academic instead of religious labels.

An Irish News report earlier this year showed that eight out of the top ten non-grammar schools at GCSE level were Catholic maintained. Yesterday the CCMS meeting heard that the latest Department of Education figures showed that Catholic schools continued to outperform 'controlled' schools last year.

They are leading the way in GCSE examination performance with a gap between the two sectors standing at 8.1 percentage points.

This means that, the average pupil at a Catholic school has a higher chance of gaining five or more GCSEs grades at A*-C than the average pupil at a controlled school.

Mr Flanagan said that the annual improvement of results in the Catholic sector was "nothing short of remarkable" considering there are higher levels of social deprivation in the sector than in 'controlled' schools.

"Whereas once the Catholic maintained sector was characterised with weak leadership and poor performance, it is now characterised as a sector which promotes quality and excellence where strong leadership is the norm rather than the exception," he said.

He said the figures also showed the Catholic ethos of the sector "not only adds value to the students experience but also raises the standards of achievement".

However, he said that there remains a significant difference in how boys schools on average compare with girls schools and said there needed to be a consideration of how the sector educates young males.



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