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Exclusive: Northern Ireland schools league tables - Catholic grammars lead the way at GCSE but top schools failing at A-level

As the Belfast Telegraph reveals today how NI schools scored in exam league tables, we examine the trends behind the statistics

By Rebecca Black

Several of Northern Ireland's most prestigious schools have fallen well below average in their A-Level results.

Today, the Belfast Telegraph publishes our exclusive league tables showing the full GCSE and A-Level results which allow parents across the country to know exactly how all schools are performing.

>>Scroll down for full list of  tables<<

The A-Level results have revealed that non-grammars are closing the gap with grammar schools.

Monkstown Community School even climbed 63 places from its position in last year's league tables to claim the top spot, with 94.7% of its students achieving three good A-Level grades in the examinations held during the 2013/14 academic year.

St Colm's High School in Magherafelt also successfully challenged grammar school domination, coming 16th with an 83.9% pass rate, and St Catherine's College in Armagh ranked 18th with an 82.7% pass rate.

Ulidia Integrated School in Carrickfergus did best in its sector, coming in at 28th place with a 79.1% pass rate.

Girls-only schools did significantly better than schools solely for boys. There were four girls' schools in the top 10, with the remaining six schools being co-educational.

The highest ranking boys-only school was the Christian Brothers School in Omagh, which came in at 21st place with a rate of 81.3%.

However, 10 of our top grammar schools had a pass rate below the 65% average. Dominican College in Portstewart performed worst of the grammars, with a pass rate of 51.5%.

Both Coleraine Academical Institution and St Michael's Grammar in Craigavon had a pass rate of 55.7%.

Royal Belfast Academical Institution had a pass rate of 58.8% at A-Level.

Regent House in Newtownards scored a 60.1% pass rate, Antrim Grammar School had a 61.1% pass rate and Campbell College - which charges up to £17,748 a year for some boarders - had a pass rate of 61.4%.

Campbell College principal, Robert Robinson, said his school's performance has been steadily improving in recent years. Its 2013/14 A-Level pass rate is a significant improvement on the previous year's 46.1%.

Mr Robinson told the Belfast Telegraph that Campbell has a different set of circumstances because it is a major boarding school, and educates many children from outside the UK, involving unusual curriculums, which means success is not as easily measured.

However, he said there has been a focus on improvement. "If you track back that equivalent figure (for A-Levels) over the last two years, you'll see that it has been improving, and our AS results from last year were even better, which would bode well for this year's results," he said.

"A lot of our students will not necessarily take three A-Levels all the way through. Many grammar schools have an issue after AS - if a student doesn't have three passes they will remove them from the school, which we don't. We let our boys finish, even if they just get two A-Level grades, which doesn't do much for our stats but it helps get our boys into further education."

GCSE: Catholic grammars lead way on performance 

Academic excellence in the Catholic school sector has again dominated Northern Ireland’s school league tables.

Eight out of the top 10 schools in last year’s GCSE results are in the Catholic sector.

Six schools across Northern Ireland achieved 100% pass rate in GCSEs, and four of these were Catholic grammar schools.

This finding will heap further pressure on Education Minister John O’Dowd and the Catholic Church, who are determined to move their schools away from academic selection.

Lumen Christi in Londonderry, which uses academic selection at 11, has for the fourth year since our tables began been at the very top. It achieved 100% pass rate at GCSE and 87.5% at A-Level.

Rathmore Grammar in south Belfast, another user of academic selection, also achieved a 100% pass rate at GCSE, as well as a 88.1% pass rate at A-level.

St Dominic’s in west Belfast, which also continues to use the unauthorised transfer tests, has maintained its standing as an academic front-runner.

Its girls have emerged from the 2014 exams among the top performers in Northern Ireland.

The school, which counts Belfast Lord Mayor Nichola Mallon among its alumni, was the second best performer at A-level, with a pass rate of 94%, and ninth at GCSE, with a 99.3% pass rate.

St Dominic’s principal Carol McCann told the Belfast Telegraph that there is a long tradition of success at the school, but emphasised that academic results are not the “be-all and end-all”.

“There is a very long tradition in the school of girls achieving very highly,” she said.

“Since the school was established in 1870 that tradition has been there, building girls up confidence-wise and instilling a high academic focus.

“But the school has always been about much more than just an academic focus; it’s also about developing the individual. Currently our emphasis is not just on girls with great results, it has to be about so much more.

“We encourage the girls to be involved in a range of competitions and activities. We have an awards ceremony in September and we dedicate a whole ceremony to non-academic awards because when we used to combine it with academic awards it nearly took over the whole night, it’s such a big occasion.”

Mrs McCann attributed the success of the school to parental support and her hard-working staff.

She said the school also runs additional study nights up to four times a week, according to demand.

The principal added that the current league table success is a welcome affirmation of the school’s forward-looking educational policy.

“At the end of the day there’s a huge range of factors that contribute to that success but I think you are quids-in if you get pupils off to a good start, and this has always been part of the DNA of the school,” she said.

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