School league tables: Rural schools dominate top spots
PUPILS at rural secondary schools are outperforming those in the cities significantly, new examination performance data shows.
Just three of the 50 schools with the best GCSE results in the north last year are located in Belfast, while only one is in Derry.
The gulf is reversed in the grammar sector, however, where urban schools dominate most of the top spots.
Any school outside Derry and Belfast is classified as 'rural' by the Department of Education.
The Irish News this week published its annual non-grammar performance list, which featured the 50 schools with the highest proportion of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C including English and maths.
It also published a separate table for grammar schools based on their A-level results.
The lists do 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.
Improving literacy and numeracy is a key aim of the Executive's Programme for Government. 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.
Non-grammar schools from rural Fermanagh, Armagh and Derry featured prominently this year.
St Mary's in Derry was the top performing urban school in 2014/15, in position 27.
It was not until position 37 that a Belfast school featured. The integrated Lagan College is `bi-lateral' meaning it uses 11-plus tests to admit a proportion of its Year 8 pupils.
St Joseph's in south Belfast and St Louise's Comprehensive in the west of the city were the only other urban schools featured in the top 50. St Louise's previously topped the annual tables when schools were ranked based on the proportion of pupils achieving any five GCSEs.
The Irish News only includes 50 schools in its non-grammar performance list.
Three more urban schools would have featured had the non-grammar list been extending to feature the top 60 - St Cecilia's in Derry, St Genevieve's in west Belfast and Little Flower Girls in north Belfast narrowly missed out.
Little Flower has been improving steadily over the last few years. The proportion achieving five good GCSEs including English and maths has increased every year since 2010/11, rising from 20 per cent to 25,32, 37 and 47 last year.
Of the 20 schools with the lowest proportion of pupils achieving the benchmark, 11 were in urban settings, nine of them in Belfast.
Conversely, city schools dominated the grammar table.
Observers noted that this was consistent with other jurisdictions. The wider gap in an urban setting is a global phenomenon, they said, where private schools were sustained in cities. Urban grammars in the north, they argued, serve the same purpose but without the cost.
Six of the top 15 grammars are in Belfast, including the top two - St Dominic's and Rathmore. In total, 11 of the 30 featured in the list are from Belfast or Derry.
However, four Belfast grammars were also among the bottom 10.