A secondary school has become the first in Northern Ireland to be placed in a school improvement programme for a second time.
Dundonald High School in east Belfast re-entered formal intervention — a Department of Education process to help failing schools — last month after an Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) follow-up inspection.
It comes just three years after the department first put Dundonald High into formal intervention following concerns about falling exam standards.
There have been some improvements in the interim — the percentage of pupils gaining level 5 or above in Key Stage 3 maths has increased from 44.3% to 53.9% (above the Northern Ireland average for similar schools) and the percentage obtaining grades A*-G at GCSE in at least five subjects has increased from 87.8% to 95%, which is in line with the average for similar schools.
But inspectors are still concerned about pupil numbers, attendance and exam results. Issues they raised in their report, published last month, included:
- Enrolment has decreased by 13% over the past four years from 302 to 264 — 56% below the school’s 600 pupil capacity;
- Overall pupil attendance has decreased from 88% to 85%, which is well below the Northern Ireland average;
- The percentage of pupils gaining A*-C at GCSE in at least five subjects is down from 20% in 2011 to 15% in 2012, well below the average for similar schools here.
Inspectors said: “Overall, the quality of education provided ... is inadequate.
“The school is unable to demonstrate evidence of sustained improvement in the outcomes for pupils at KS4; there are significant areas for improvement in learning and teaching and in leadership and management which need to be addressed urgently ... ”
ETI will carry out another follow-up inspection in 2014 to ensure the school is meeting the targets it has been set.
Under the area plans ordered by Education Minister John O’Dowd, the South Eastern Education and Library Board has proposed a collegiate involving Dundonald, Knockbreda and Newtownbreda High Schools to raise educational standards.
In a statement Dundonald High said: “We are very pleased at some of the findings of the inspectorate, especially that they rated our teaching as good or satisfactory. We are slightly disappointed that they have decided to place us into the intervention process, but we understand their reasons.
“They recognise that, with the retirement of our principal and the upcoming retirement of our vice-principal (currently interim principal), we would need support to ensure a smooth transition for the school leadership.
“Our school continues to provide a quality education ... and we hope that the further support of the South Eastern Education and Library Board will help to strengthen us as a school.”
In November 2011, Dundonald High School made headlines after the school found itself at the centre of a poppy row. A pupil had claimed a teacher had asked her to remove her poppy; however, an investigation found no evidence to back up the allegation. The issue, which was ongoing for more than four weeks, culminated in protests outside the controlled 11-16 years school and a teacher who worked there receiving threats. Concerns had been expressed at the time about the damage the PR disaster was causing to the school’s reputation.