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Failing school ‘must improve’

By Lesley-Anne Henry

Substantial and urgent improvements must be made in a Northern Ireland grammar school if it is to meet the needs of the pupils, a damning new report has said.

The Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) found major failings in the standards, learning, teaching, leadership and management of sixth-form provision at Cambridge House in Ballymena.

Last week it was revealed that Cambridge House was the first grammar school to be placed in the Department of Education's formal intervention process.

The inspection report into the school has now been published by the Department of Education. The report concluded: “In the areas inspected, the overall quality of the provision is inadequate.

“The significant areas for |improvement outweigh the strengths in the sixth-form provision. The leadership of planning, learning and teaching in the sixth form in this school is not effecting the required improvement in standards identified at the time of the inspection in 2009.

“The substantial areas for improvement identified in standards, learning and teaching and the leadership and management of aspects of the sixth-form provision need to be addressed urgently if the school is to meet effectively the needs of all the pupils.”

ETI visited Cambridge House in April at the request of the Department of Education and focused its inspection on teaching and learning within the sixth form as well as careers education information advice and guidance (CEIAG) and/or pastoral care.

Inspectors met representatives from the school’s board of governors and groups of pupils from years 12, 13 and 14.

Overall, they said that standards achieved by the pupils in the sixth form were “inadequate”.

The report said: “There has been a lack of improvement in the whole school standards at A level; the proportion of pupils achieving three or more A levels at grades A-C has fallen from 42% to 40% and is almost one half of the average for similar selective schools.”

The quality of teaching in sixth form was also highlighted as |ranging from “very good to inadequate” while the number of pupils “dropping out” at the end of year 13 was deemed “too high” and “well above the Northern Ireland average”.

The report said: “A significant minority of the lessons observed was good, and the majority was either satisfactory or inadequate, with significant areas of improvement. There is insufficient long-term or short-term planning for teaching and learning in the sixth form.”

Cambridge House is the 27th school to be placed in formal intervention since the process began two years ago. Since then eight schools have exited formal intervention and one has closed. If a school has not exited within two years the department can restructure or replace its management team, merge or close the school.

In 2009, an inspection report revealed that the percentage of pupils achieving seven or more GCSE grades at A*-C over the past three years, including English and mathematics, was well below the average for similar Northern Ireland selective schools. At GCSE grades A*-B, most subjects |were more than 10 percentage points below the Northern Ireland average. The latest assessment found there had |been “improvement” with 82% |of pupils obtaining GCSE grades A*-C.

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