Northern Ireland

Working to help schools support effective learning for young people

CSSC chief executive Barry Mulholland
CSSC chief executive Barry Mulholland

We need to work together to improve educational outcomes for our children and young people, writes Barry Mulholland, Chief Executive of the Controlled Schools’ Support Council (CSSC).


CSSC's vision is one that supports controlled schools in providing high quality education for children and young people, to enable them to learn, develop and grow together.

While the Northern Ireland education system places well in international studies such as Timms, Pirls and Pisa, there are worrying levels of underachievement in some identifiable groups of pupils.

CSSC has recently carried out research into attainment and performance in the controlled sector. It has shown that 61 per cent of controlled school pupils achieve five or more GCSEs at A* to C (including English and maths), however it also adds to the growing body of evidence that male pupils entitled to free schools meals are underachieving.

In terms of boys entitled to free school meals (FSM), CSSC's report reveals that 29 per cent of FSM entitled boys in controlled secondary schools attained `good' GCSEs. This further adds to the evidence that resources need to be targeted at this cohort of pupils.

A study that explores attainment must always question the parameters which define success.

The attainment of five GCSEs, grades A*-C, including English and maths is arguably a very blunt measurement which fails to recognise the progress pupils make or the achievement of individual pupils relative to their circumstances. It does not reflect the added value that schools provide to equip pupils with all the skills they need to fulfil their potential.

Good quality teaching is critical to supporting pupils to meet their potential, however wider environmental and societal factors also impact on pupil attainment. Schools have a crucial role in supporting pupils as they work towards their chosen career path. University is not be the optimum or desired route for many pupils.

In this context, I was delighted that CSSC co-hosted the first Taking Boys Seriously joint conference with Ulster University and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools on Wednesday 17 October 2018.

The conference captured innovative practice in some of Northern Ireland's post primary schools and youth groups in terms of raising boys' aspirations and improving engagement. This included showcasing best practice from two controlled schools: Markethill High School, and Abbey Community College through its partnership with Monkstown Boxing Club. We also heard Artillery Youth Centre, Youth action and St Joseph's Boys' School in Derry outline how they inspire boys and young men to succeed.

The panellists discussed how choice of teaching methods and ways of engaging with boys and young men can improve outcomes. Their insights will prove invaluable as we seek to support all pupils in realising their potential.

The continuation of these partnerships and sharing of best practice will help us to support schools and ensure a range of strategies are in place to support effective learning and achievement.