Northern Ireland news

Catholic schools dominate top spots at A-level and GCSE

The Irish News today publishes examination performance lists for the north's post-primary schools. Grammar schools are listed based on the proportion of pupils achieving top A-levels while GCSEs are used for non-grammar providers. Education Correspondent Simon Doyle reports.


CATHOLIC grammar schools continue to dominate the highest places on annual examination performance lists.

Securing three or more A-levels at grades A* to C is considered a reasonable expectation of grammar pupils.

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Most academically selective schools are geared towards taking these exams.

Using newly-published statistics for the 2016/17 academic year, The Irish News today ranks the top 30 schools by the proportion of pupils achieving the three A-level standard.

Again, pupils at a Catholic grammar school produced the best set of results.

While there are equal numbers of Catholic and non-Catholic schools on this year's list, Catholic schools occupy nine of the top 10 and 13 of the top 20 spots.

The Department of Education, which provided figures for each school, says such information "does not provide a valid basis for comparing performance between schools".

Exam data takes no account of intakes of the schools or of any other factors that may affect pupil performance.

However, the list does not intend to suggest that one school is better than another, or that academic performance should be the sole criterion for judging the quality of education on offer.

In addition, it has been often argued that grammar schools can usefully be compared on the basis of exam performance.

The Irish News performance lists are anticipated annually and some schools advertise their positions on their websites.

St Louis' in Ballymena had the highest proportion of pupils achieving top marks - 96.5 per cent. It is the second year in a row that at least 96 per cent of its A-level pupils achieved three or more A*-C grades.

Principal Sean Rafferty said the school community was delighted with the academic outcomes last year.

"With such a large and vibrant sixth form it is always a cause for celebration when so many students can have the opportunity to achieve so highly at A-level stage - 96.5 per cent A*-C/88 per cent A*-B grades. These are simply phenomenal outcomes and richly deserved," he said.

"In the competitive world we inhabit, the need for confident, articulate and independent thinkers has never been higher but having top class qualifications goes a long way to ensuring career aspirations can be attained. We are proud of our students and all they have achieved."

Mr Rafferty said St Louis' had, over the past few years, established itself as a top achieving school.

"This only happens by hard work; focus; supportive tracking of progress and a passionate teaching staff. Obviously we acknowledge our achievements of this year, but are keen to point out that every student is a successful one if they put in the effort and commitment required," he added.

"We are so proud of these cohorts of students at both GCSE/GCE and hope we can replicate next year with the same outcomes. We value each student personally and know that in a few years those students will have significant contributions to make to our society and community. We look forward to consolidating our position as a top performing school as we continually grow and develop our curriculum and links with both the business and community world."

Lumen Christi in Derry, which has previously been the best performing school, appears in second on today's list with 95.4 per cent of its pupils achieving three top grades. In third is St Dominic's in west Belfast (92.4 per cent) which topped the tables for the previous four years. Loreto College in Coleraine, a non-selective grammar school, and Rathmore in south Belfast complete the top five.



SINCE it first topped annual non-grammar performance lists, the proportion of pupils scoring strings of top GCSE grades at St Patrick's in Keady has soared.

The all-abilities college - lauded for ending streaming - proudly sat top of the pile in 2013/14 when 80 per cent achieved five or more five A*-C grades.

Department of Education figures for 2016/17 again show St Patrick's in first - this time with 91.3 per cent.

The non-grammar performance list features the 50 schools with the highest proportion of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C including English and maths.

Improving literacy and numeracy is a key aim of the executive. The aim is to increase the overall proportion of pupils with at least five GCSEs at A*-C, including GCSEs in maths and English, by the time they leave school.

When a school is revealed to have the north's best GCSE results, they usually pay tribute to the hard work of teachers, staff and parents.

This year, however, St Patrick's said it would not comment as it is awaiting the outcome of an independent investigation into allegations of malpractice.

A probe is continuing into alleged exam cheating. The claims centre around GCSE English and maths examinations in the summer of 2017.

The school is "co-operating fully" and said there was "no suggestion of widespread malpractice".

St Patrick's was voted top secondary school in the UK at the prestigious 2015 TES awards.

Since it took the decision to stop banding its pupils, it rocketed to the top of Northern Ireland league tables and is one of the few schools to have placed first more than once.

Instead of streaming pupils it operates an almost primary-style approach to secondary teaching, which led to an improvement in results.

Judges at the TES awards said its "innovative work and move away from banding, the amazing results achieved and rate of acceleration" made St Patrick's stand out.

Its 2016/17 results are its best ever, however, principal Pat McGuckian said she could not comment.

"It would not be appropriate to make detailed comment in advance of the outcome to the ongoing independent review," she said.

In second is St Colm's High School in Draperstown where 87.7 per cent of pupils achieved five or more good GCSEs. It was followed by St Patrick's in Maghera (85.9 per cent) and St Mary's High School in Brollagh, Co Fermanagh (83.3), which had been earmarked for closure but has been given a reprieve.

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