GCSE pass rates mask English and maths slumps
READ BY BILLY
OVERALL exam pass rates are masking pupil under-achievement in GCSE English and maths.
While the number of top grades is on the increase, thousands are not passing or even taking the two core subjects.
The Irish News this month published a list of the north's top-performing secondary schools.
This detailed the proportion of young people achieving five or more A*-C grades at GCSE, including maths and English.
The table would have a different look if it instead considered the percentage passing any five subjects, however.
The Department of Education figures used to compile the list highlight the difference between the proportion achieving any five GCSEs and those scoring the higher standard - five including maths and English.
The gap in non-grammar schools in 2017/18 was 24.9 percentage points. Across the north, 77.3 per cent passed any five compared with 52.4 per cent achieving the English and maths target.
Up until 2015, the Irish News's annual tables were based on any five subjects. There were concerns voiced, however, that some schools encouraged entry into 'softer' GCSEs to boost achievement.
The 2017/18 figures show that in all but one of 122 secondary schools, the pass rate fell when numeracy and literacy was taken into account.
At some schools there was a difference of 60 percentage points.
St Mary's in Brollagh, Co Fermanagh was the only school in which the proportion was identical - although just seven pupils sat GCSEs last year.
St John's Business and Enterprise College in Dromore was one of just two non-grammar school that achieved a 100 per cent pass rate, using the `any five' category.
That would have seen it top the table using the pre-2015 criteria.
Its rate including English and maths was 39.1 per cent, which meant it finished outside the published top 50.
Principal Christine Doherty said many pupils instead took Essential Skills qualifications, which are designed to help improve reading, writing, maths and IT.
Almost three-quarters of pupils who entered GCSE maths at St John's last year, she added, achieved a C or higher in English, while 94.4 per cent reached the maths standard.
"We put them in for Essential Skills, that way we can get them motivated. You have to look at each child," Ms Doherty said.
"We know that is the best deal for them. Our aim is not to let anyone leave here without some qualification in English and maths."