Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 23 October 2014

536 schools struggle to survive in Northern Ireland

Minister warns of closures as audit exposes failings

The nine grammar schools failing educationally
The nine grammar schools failing educationally
The nine grammar schools failing educationally

The myth that Northern Ireland has a world-class education system has been exploded after an audit found that 538 schools here are unviable either educationally, financially or in terms of pupil numbers.

>> Click on More Pictures to view the nine grammar schools that are failing educationally

The Education Minister John O’Dowd has revealed 46.5% of primary schools, 83.8% of secondary schools and 35% of grammar schools have been identified as being in some form of difficulty.

And last night he admitted that he would have no hesitation in closing failing schools to protect children’s education.

“If that decision is needed in individual cases, then that decision will be made,” said Mr O’Dowd.

Key findings of the viability audit of Northern Ireland’s 1,055 schools include:

  • 390 primary schools are struggling in at least one category;
  • 66 primary schools catering for 8,904 pupils are failing to reach satisfactory standards in literacy and numeracy;
  • 15 schools are failing in all three criteria;
  • 124 secondary schools are in difficulty in at least one category;
  • 34 secondary schools catering for 15,874 pupils are failing educationally;
  • 66 secondary schools are projected to be £25.5m in debt by 2013/14;
  • 24 grammar schools are experiencing difficulty in at least one category;
  • nine grammar schools are failing educationally;
  • 10 grammar schools are estimated to be £2.76m in debt by 2013/14.

Commenting on the results of the long-awaited viability audit, SDLP education spokesman Conall McDevitt said: “The Education Minister seems to be advocating a mass closure plan.”

The findings also revealed that the Catholic maintained sector is faring better than the controlled sector, traditionally attended by pupils from a Protestant background.

At primary level, 12% of controlled schools are failing educationally compared to just 4% in the maintained sector and 2% of integrated schools.

At secondary level, 36% of controlled schools are not meeting educational standards compared to 17% of maintained schools and 10% in the integrated sector.

The minister said: “The overall picture is a serious one and it confirms the need to move quickly on the area plans and to put in place the network of viable and sustainable schools that will deliver high quality education for all pupils. There are a number of schools, both primary and post-primary, that are evidencing stress in one or more area.

“These reports will be of concern to a lot of parents and staff in our schools. I must emphasise that it is not the case that where a school is demonstrating stress that it will close — indeed, given the number of schools that are stressed this would be impossible.

“But we cannot ignore instances where the pupils are not accessing high quality education and this is why in some cases we need to take swift action.”

Solutions the minister pointed to included shared education, ending academic selection, and all-ability schools where people from all backgrounds — religious and social — are educated together.

“We know that the best outcomes for all pupils can be seen in systems around the world where school intakes are reflective of society — a shared education system, with children from affluent and disadvantaged areas educated together,” he said.

The blame for the crisis facing our schools has been laid at the door of the Department of Education by the DUP.

Its education spokesman and chairman of the Assembly education committee, Mervyn Storey, said: “Why did the department allow schools to fall into this state of stress? Why were policy initiatives followed by the department which have proved, on today’s figures, to have been ineffective and, indeed, damaging to our schools?”

He warned that the answer was not to be found in closing schools, but sharing resources.

“Closing schools would simply be an admission of failure on the part of the minister. The answer to these questions lies in raising the quality of education in our schools, giving autonomy back to teachers in the classroom and by giving boards of governors and principals the freedom they need to deliver,” said Mr Storey.

“It is time for the minister to be creative, to examine sharing not closures, to give schools and teachers autonomy rather than tying their hands. It is time for education in Northern Ireland to be focused on the best interests of children rather than merely blunt economics.”

The 15 schools failing all three tests

Secondary schools

Coleraine College, Coleraine

Quality of Education Experience: 23.5% of pupils achieving five GCSEs including English & maths at grades A* to C

Enrolment trends over three years: 183 pupils (down by 20.36%)

Finance: By 2013/14: £791,445 in debt

Proposal: To be considered under Area Planning

Garvagh High School, Co Londonderry

Quality of Education Experience: 21.4% of pupils achieving five GCSEs including English & maths at grades A* to C

Enrolment trends over three years: 93 pupils (down by 34.04%)

Finance: By 2013/14: £566,612 in debt

Proposal: To be considered under Area Planning

Newtownabbey Community High School, Co Antrim

Quality of Education Experience: 14.5% of pupils achieving five GCSEs including English & maths at grades A* to C

Enrolment trends over three years: 230 pupils (down by 4.17%)

Finance: By 2013/14: £442,739 in debt

Proposal: To be considered under Area Planning

Crumlin Integrated College

Quality of Education Experience: 16.4% of pupils achieving five GCSEs including English & maths at grades A* to C

Enrolment trends over three years: 229 pupils (down by 23.67%)

Finance: By 2013/14: £182,696 in debt

Proposal: To be considered under Area Planning

St Columban’s College, Kilkeel

Quality of Education Experience: 17% of pupils achieving five GCSEs including English & maths at grades A* to C

Enrolment trends over three years: 215 pupils (down by 15.35%)

Finance: By 2013/14: £434,004 in debt

Proposal: The financial deficit of the school is being addressed by the school and the SELB. The Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education (NICCE) has recommended it merges with St Louis’ Kilkeel

St Brigid’s High, Armagh

Quality of Education Experience: 13% of pupils achieving five GCSEs including English & maths at grades A* to C

Enrolment trends over three years: 211 pupils (down by 2.32%)

Finance: By 2013/14: £771,010 in debt

Proposal: The financial deficit of the school is being addressed by the school and the SELB. NICCE has recommended it merges with St Patrick’s Armagh

Drumcree College, Portadown

Quality of Education Experience: 15.1% of pupils achieving five GCSEs including English & maths at grades A* to C

Enrolment trends over three years: 168 pupils (down by 19.91%)

Finance: By 2013/14: £961,112 in debt

Proposal: The financial deficit of the school is being addressed by the school and the SELB. NICCE has recommended it for closure

St Peter’s High School, Derry

Quality of Education Experience: 8.3% of pupils achieving five GCSEs including English and maths at grades A* to C

Enrolment trends over three years: 161 pupils (down by 26.41%)

Finance: By 2013/14: £1,069,532 in debt

Proposal: The school is no longer financially viable. CCMS will progress a consultation with the community on the closure of the school as part of the post-primary review. The consultations will be carried out by June 2012

Immaculate Conception College, Derry

Quality of Education Experience: 17.9% of pupils achieving five GCSEs including English and maths at grades A* to C

Enrolment trends over three years: 183 pupils (down by 15.3%)

Finance: By 2013/14: £223,433 in debt

Proposal: NICCE post- primary review making proposals to address the identified stress; to be closely linked to area planning

Corpus Christi, Belfast

Quality of Education Experience: 15.3% of pupils achieving five GCSEs including English & maths at grades A* to C

Enrolment trends over three years: 434 pupils (down by 16.2%)

Finance: By 2013/14: £2,063,962 in debt

Proposal: Decision to be made following Area Planning review

Dunmurry High, Belfast

Quality of Education Experience: 0% of pupils achieving five GCSEs including English & maths at grades A* to C

Enrolment trends over three years: 175 pupils (down by 40.8%)

Finance: By 2013/14: £711,197 in debt

Proposal: Earmarked by SEELB for closure. Final decision to be made by Education Minister

Knockbreda High School, Belfast

Quality of Education Experience: 16.7% of pupils achieving five GCSEs including English & maths at grades A* to C

Enrolment trends over three years: 458 pupils (down by 12%)

Finance: By 2013/14: £218,818 in debt

Proposal: Decision to be made following Area Planning review

St Rose’s Dominican College, Belfast

Quality of Education Experience: 20.8% of pupils achieving five GCSEs including English & maths at grades A* to C

Enrolment trends over three years: 305 pupils (down by 12.25%)

Finance: By 2013/14: £ 432,321 in debt

Proposal: Decision to be made following Area Planning review. NICCE has recommended it forms part of Dominican campus with St Dominic’s

Primary Schools

Ballykeigle Primary School, Comber

Quality of Education Experience: School has been in the lower quartile of its FSM band in three of the past four years in both English and maths

Enrolment trends over three years: 40 pupils (down by 20%)

Finance: By 2013/14: £9,512 in debt

Proposal: Earmarked by SEELB for closure. Final decision to be made by Education Minister

Malvern Primary School, Belfast

Quality of Education Experience: School has been in the lower quartile of its FSM band in three of the past four years in both English and maths.

Enrolment trends over three years: 117 pupils (up by 3.54%)

Finance: By 2013/14: £225,274 in debt

Proposal: To be considered under Area Planning

Case Studies: Three Northern Ireland schools and the problems they face

Ballykeigle Primary School, Co Down (Primary)

A small rural controlled primary school located outside Comber. Ballykeigle currently has around 40 pupils.

It has now been earmarked for closure by the South Eastern Education and Library Board and is awaiting a final decision by Education Minister John O’Dowd.

After being earmarked it organised a campaign to halt its potential closure and was featured in the Belfast Telegraph on several occasions.

Following its threat of closure it is now trying to become an Ulster-Scots centre of excellence.

Knockbreda High School, Belfast (Secondary)

A co-educational controlled secondary school based just outside Belfast and currently under formal intervention.

Formed in 1959, it entered the formal intervention process in 2009 and was deemed as unsatisfactory in 2010 after a report by the Belfast Telegraph.

It primarily serves the residents of the areas that surround it including the Cregagh, Braniel, Woodstock and Belvoir areas.

It is achieving significantly less than the 25% target of its pupils achieving five grades A*-C at GCSE — including English and maths.

St Malachy's College, Belfast (Grammar)

St Malachy’s College is an all boys grammar and one of the city’s most highly-regarded schools with a catchment area across Belfast.

It has over 1,000 pupils and is the oldest Catholic grammar in Ulster and one of the oldest in Ireland. Known for its sporting achievements, it has produced several well-known personalities including Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill, actor Ciaran Hinds and Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey.

It is achieving just under the 85% target of students achieving seven grades A*-C at GCSE — including English and maths.

The benchmarks used to evaluate success in exams, finances and enrolment

Last September the Education Minister announced every school would be audited on three criteria — quality of education provision, stable enrolments and sound financial viability.

Those audits were carried out by the five education and library boards in conjunction with the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS).

They were returned to the Department of Education in January and were published yesterday.

The template for every school is the same at primary, secondary and grammar level.

Quality of education in primary schools was measured by their success in key stages one and two (English and maths) for three of the last four years (06/07 to 09/10).

The benchmark used in secondary schools was if less than 25% of pupils achieved five GCSEs including English and maths at grades A* to C in both of the last two years (08/09 to 09/10).

In grammar schools it was if less than 85% of pupils achieved seven GCSEs including English and maths at grades A* to C, in both of the last two years (08/09 and 09/10).

Enrolment looked at the schools’ trends over the last three years (09/10 to 11/12), the percentage change in pupil numbers and whether or not they met the Government benchmark. For primary schools that is 105 pupils for rural schools or 140 for urban. For post-primaries it is 500 pupils for years eight to 12 and 100 for sixth form.

Finances predicted whether or not the school would be in the red by 2013/14. They are rated as being level one, two, three or four. Level one is the worst with a deficit of 50% or more, level two is 25% or more, level three is 5% or more and level four is within Government limits.

All schools are asked if they are in formal intervention, the cause of stress is identified and a proposal going forward made.

To find out how your child’s school fared in the viability audit, log on to your local education and library board’s website and the results will be on the home page.

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