60 schools not offering enough A-level subjects

From this year, all post-primary schools must offer pupils 24 subjects at GCSE and 27 at A-level
From this year, all post-primary schools must offer pupils 24 subjects at GCSE and 27 at A-level

HALF the north's secondary schools are failing to meet a demand to offer pupils a greater choice of A-level subjects.

All post-primary schools must now, by law, offer access to 27 subjects at A-level - but some small schools are falling way short by offering just six.

The `entitlement framework' was designed to ensure every child, regardless of background or school, could access the same curriculum.

Since 2013, all grammar and non-grammar schools have been gradually increasing the number of subjects each year.

From the start of the 2015/16, they have been required to make available at least 24 courses at GCSE and 27 at A-level. One third of these must be academic and one third vocational.

Last year, 60 post-primary schools - nine grammar and 51 non-grammar - did not offer enough at post-16. There are only 104 secondary, non-grammar schools that offer post-16 courses, meaning almost half are failing to fulfil the entitlement framework demands.

While it is a legislative requirement, the Department of Education will not impose any sanctions against schools that fail to meet the targets, however,

As many small schools cannot meet the demands alone, it was always envisaged they would collaborate with other schools or FE colleges. This is a problem for some schools in rural areas, however.

Figures provided to The Irish News now reveal the number of schools not yet meeting this legal requirement. In 2014/15, this was 24 GCSEs and 21 post-16 subjects.

All but 23 of 202 post-primary schools last year offered at least 21 courses at GCSE/Key Stage 4. At A-level/post-16, a total of 60 schools either fell short or failed to have the right balance of vocational and academic subjects.

St Eugene's in Roslea offered six post-16 subjects and 15 GCSEs in 2014/15. It only had 11 pupils enrolled in its sixth form last year, however.

The small school, which is part of an amalgamation proposal also involving St Comhghall's College in Lisnaskea, offered subjects at A-level including Applied ICT, business studies, health and social care, biology and RE.

Principal Dr Martin Knox said small schools always worked to make available as wide a choice of subjects as possible.

"It is one thing saying we can offer 24 subjects, but children are only doing eight or 10. Offering a subject with the intention of doing it is something different as well," he said.

"The impetus is on schools to try to deliver, and most do, but most would have been doing that anyway. In a small school like ours, our children enjoy the benefits of small classes, and good one to one teaching and learning."

Other non-grammar schools offering single figures were St Mary's College in Irvinestown (8), Priory Integrated College Holywood (9), City of Armagh High School (6) and St Patrick's College Banbridge (9).

John O'Dowd said his objective as education minister was to ensure that all children were treated fairly.

The Entitlement Framework, he said, ensured every child could access the same economically relevant, broad-based curriculum which provides clear progression pathways.

"It is a system that caters for children's interests, for their aspirations and for their career needs. Crucially, it is a system that breaks down barriers. Encouraging schools and further education colleges to deliver courses in collaboration with one another, enables children from different schools, selective and non-selective and across different sectors, to be educated together in the same classroom," Mr O'Dowd said.

"Much progress has been made. Ten years ago...the opportunities available for pupils depended very much on the school they attended with some schools offering as few as six courses while others offered their pupils up to 30 courses. The number of schools offering 21 courses including 1/3 applied subjects has increased by 89 per cent at KS4 and 78 per cent at post-16 since 2006."