Education news

Poor children being taken out of GCSEs, figures show

One in every eight pupils who receive free school meals are being declared ineligible to sit their exams

LARGE numbers of `poor' children and boys are being excluded from GCSEs by their schools, new figures show.

One in every eight pupils who receive free school meals (FSM) are being declared ineligible to sit exams.

Department of Education statistics also reveal that Catholic secondary schools remove more pupils from GCSEs than other sectors.

And twice as many boys than girls are not taking exams.

If a pupil is ineligible, they remain invisible from government statistics designed to gauge performance.

Observers said the poorest children were being written out of statistics while the figures also challenged the perception of Catholic secondaries were outperforming controlled schools.

Catholic schools consistently dominate the highest places on annual examination performance lists published by the Irish News. This year, there were 14 Catholic institutions among the top 20 secondary schools, which also featured four from the controlled and two from the integrated sectors.

Only pupils who sit exams are included in Summary of Annual Examination Results (SAER) returns and, therefore, official GCSE pass rates. Ineligible pupils are not included in these statistics, which are used to compile performance tables.

However, it has long been claimed that schools remove poorer-performing pupils from exams to prevent pass rates from being affected adversely.

Counting every young person, whether they sat GCSEs or not, would see pass rates fall.

Pupils can be ineligible for reasons including serious illness, including mental health issues, and pregnancy. They can also be excluded if they transfer schools, have a statement of special educational needs or "serious welfare issues".

SAER ineligibility figures for 2016/17 show there were 1,479 who did not take a single GCSE. More than half - 753 - were FSM eligible.

Twice as many boys than girls were ineligible - 992 compared to 487. One in every 11 boys (9 per cent) were excluded.

A total of 622 pupils at Catholic schools were ineligible - about 11 per cent of all pupils in the sector. This compared to 472 in state schools (7 per cent) and 108 in grammar schools (1.5 per cent). While there was a higher proportion of integrated pupils excluded, the actual number of pupils was significantly lower - 277 across all integrated post-primaries.

In her last annual report, chief inspector Noelle Buick said the criteria for the permitted exclusion of pupils from examinations data "needs to be the subject of further investigation and research".

School leadership, she said, "needs to act with integrity in order to be transparent with all stakeholders with regard to how many pupils are declared ineligible from inclusion in their statistics when they are being quoted for accountability, publicity or any other purposes".

A subsequent probe found where a school had a higher proportion of FSM pupils, "there was a greater number of pupils ineligible for inclusion in the public examinations performance data".

It further found a small number of schools had "a notably high number of pupils ineligible for inclusion in the SAER return as a result of an inappropriate application and misinterpretation of the ineligibility criteria".

"There were pupils who were ineligible for inclusion in the SAER but were entered as external candidates and then sat their examinations. In each case, the evidence is clear that the inclusion of these pupils in the school's examination results would have impacted adversely on the school's headline performance data and its position in media published league tables," the report found.

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INELIGIBLE PUPILS 2016/17

MANAGEMENT TYPE ELIGIBLE INELIGIBLE % INELIGIBLE

Controlled 6303 472 7.0

Voluntary 6952 108 1.5

Catholic and other maintained 5045 622 11.0

Controlled integrated 383 56 12.8

Grant maintained integrated 1255 221 15.0

GENDER

Female 9956 487 4.7

Male 9982 992 9.0

FREE MEALS

FSM pupils 5291 753 12.5

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