The percentage of pupils who achieved five good GCSEs – including English and maths – has fallen in half of all grammar schools, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Key to table above: August 2012 GCSE results for every post-primary school in Northern Ireland based on annual examination results provided by the Department of Education. NI average is 60.1%. Based on the percentage of pupils achieving 5+ GCSEs including English and maths at grades A* to C. * denotes a figure of less than five. FSM percentage of pupils entitled to free school meals. NI average is 18.5%. SEN percentage of pupils with special educational needs. NI average is 18.2%. G Grammar school NG Non-grammar school. PR 2011 Pass Rate
Of the 68 grammars in Northern Ireland, a total of 34 saw the level of children earning five grades of A*-C standard drop last year. Indeed, just 31 selective schools – less than half of the overall – improved their GCSE performance in 2012 compared to the previous year.
And only four schools which use academic selection to determine their pupil intake – Aquinas Diocesan (Belfast), Wallace High (Lisburn), Lumen Christi College (Londonderry) and Dalriada (Ballymoney) – ensured every pupil secured at least a grade C in English and maths as well as three other GCSEs.
The new findings are from a Belfast Telegraph analysis of the 2012 Annual Examination Results recently released by the Department of Education.
In the grammar sector, the average percentage of pupils achieving the minimum Government standard of five good GCSEs was 92.9% – down from 93.9% in 2011. Among the well-known grammar schools which came in significantly below their sector average were Campbell College in Belfast, Cambridge House in Ballymena, Coleraine Academical Institution, Strabane Grammar and St Mary's Christian Brothers in Belfast.
The overall Northern Ireland average – bringing in grammar and secondary schools – is 60.1% which one grammar, Strabane, fell below. However, Strabane Academy selects a maximum of 50% of its Year 8 pupils using academic selection.
The Belfast Telegraph has used the data to create a league table of Northern Ireland's 211 post-primary schools based on their pupils' GCSE results.
Lumen Christi in Londonderry has retained last year's position at the top of the table, now joined by three other schools, but Lurgan College has plummeted from joint first last year to 60th after the percentage of pupils achieving five good GCSEs including English and maths dropped from 100% to 87.2%.
Pat O'Doherty, principal of Lumen Christi, said: "This year has been particularly successful in that every student attained at least seven A*-B grades. This is not only due to the hard work of our students but in particular to the excellent relationships that exists among students and teachers who give of their time in helping each pupil attain their potential."
The Northern Ireland-wide results show nine non-selective schools outperformed the lowest achieving grammar school, Strabane Academy.
They are St Catherine's (Armagh), Newtownhamilton High, St Patrick's Comprehensive College (Maghera), Slemish College (Ballymena), St Killian's College (Carnlough), St Patrick's Academy (Lisburn), Omagh High, St Patrick's High (Keady) and St Ciaran's High (Ballygawley).
All of those top-achieving schools were also above the Northern Ireland average (grammar and non-grammar schools) of 60.1% for the percentage of pupils gaining five GCSEs at grades A* to C including English and maths.
Other findings show:
- Just 36% of schools – 67 grammars and nine non-grammars – were above the overall Northern Ireland average
- In the secondary sector the average was 36.2% (compared to 36.4% in 2011) meaning two out of every three pupils failed to gain five good GCSEs
- 79 out of 143 secondary schools were below that average
- Just 95 of 211 schools had more than half their pupils achieve five good GCSEs
- 69 secondary schools, almost half, saw their results improve year-on-year.
In the grammar sector Wellington College, Belfast, was the most improved, up nine percentage points and 29 places on last year, while Strabane Academy saw the biggest decline in the number of pupils gaining five good GCSEs down 20 places. The highest achieving single-sex schools were St Patrick's Grammar, Downpatrick (boys) and Thornhill College, Derry (girls).
In the secondary sector St Catherine's College, Armagh, was the top achieving non-selective school, pipping several grammar schools in the league table.
The most improved non-selective school was St Eugene's High School, Castlederg – due to close its doors this August – up from 212th place to 91st with half its 33 pupils securing five good GCSEs.
St Joseph's Boys' School, Derry, experienced the biggest slump, dropping 30 percentage points and 83 places.
Figures for six schools could not be revealed by the department as they had less than five pupils secure five good GCSEs. They were Drumcree College (Portadown), Garvagh High (Coleraine), Lisnagarvey High (Lisburn), Orangefield (Belfast), St Gemma's High (Belfast) and St Peter's High (Derry). Four of them – excluding Garvagh High and Lisnagarvey High – are earmarked for closure.
Don't fool yourself about the worth of good grades
There is much debate about the use of school league tables with many, including the Department of Education and some schools, opposed to their publication. But the Belfast Telegraph's annual league table provides parents with information on the exam performance of every post-primary school in Northern Ireland.
Let's not fool ourselves about the importance of exam performance.
The department sets annual targets for the percentage of pupils it wants to achieve five GCSEs including English and maths at grades A* to C.
Industry generally dictates that the minimum requirement for a job is five good GCSEs.
A pupil needs good GCSE results if they want to progress to studying A-levels in the hope of securing a university place.
And if the results of exams aren't important why then are at least five of seven of the schools at the bottom of our league table under threat of closure from the education authorities?
So it is right that the Belfast Telegraph produces league tables. They highlight schools that are performing well, those that are average and others which are totally failing pupils.
Exam results should be considered in conjunction with other information – inspection reports, open nights, pastoral care records etc.
Parents need to bear in mind that a school could have a high percentage pass rate but a small number of pupils, some schools use academic selection while others don't, not all schools offer the same subjects and some schools are catering for children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds or with special educational needs.
The league tables do allow parents to ask questions of the schools, their board of governors, principals and education authorities.
Why is my local school underperforming? What is the reason for its improvement?
Why has it deteriorated or why is one school with a high percentage of pupils entitled to free school meals performing better than a similar school?
Questions also need to be asked of the grammar sector.
Why do just 1.4% of grammar schools have 100% pass rate for five GCSEs including English and maths when they select the most academically gifted children at 11?
It is a poor reflection that less than half of our grammar schools improved in 2012 on the percentage of pupils achieving five good GCSEs compared to 2011. And the results in the non-selective sector, also marginally down on the previous year, prove not enough is being done to improve the life chances of secondary school pupils.
The fact that only 36.2% of pupils achieved five good GCSEs including English and maths shows the department's current policy is failing.
Level of underachievement 'is still too high'
The level of underachievement in Northern Ireland's post primary schools, including our grammars, is still too high, the Education Minister has admitted.
John O'Dowd insisted that exam results were moving in the right direction but said more needs to be done.
"School attainment statistics are important and it is encouraging that the performance of our pupils has continued to improve in recent years. In 2006, only 53% of young people left school with the benchmark of five or more GCSEs at A*-C including English and maths. This figure has now risen to 60%," he said.
"We are moving in the right direction but the levels of underachievement are still much too high and work is ongoing to tackle this important issue.
"We have many high-achieving schools, both selective and non-selective, however it is true that there are also many under-performing schools. League tables can never reflect the true state of educational provision and mask the fact that many pupils are underachieving."
The Programme for Government has targets set to increase the overall proportion of young people who achieve at least five GCSEs at grades A*-C or equivalent including English and maths by the time they leave school to 66% by 2015. Mr O'Dowd said: "I have in place a coherent set of policies designed to improve educational outcomes for young people and to address the root causes when pupils are not achieving to their full potential. Results show these policies are having an impact but the challenge now is to ensure their effective implementation so the improvement in educational outcomes continues, especially for disadvantaged pupils."
However, the chairman of Stormont's Education Committee has warned the figures highlight the challenges that remain.
Mervyn Storey, who is also the DUP's education spokesman, said: "Many young people, especially those from socially disadvantaged communities and those who have special needs, struggle to achieve in this narrow context at 16 yet the minister and Department has failed to recognise or ignored this. I have been asking the minister to consider a value added approach to measuring achievement but this has fallen on deaf ears."
How we gathered data and calculated rankings
The Department of Education collects a range of data on pupils' performance at GCSE.
We decided to use the Government benchmark of five GCSEs including English and maths at grades A* to C, as this is also recognised as the standard required to secure most employment.
Because that is the desired level for every pupil – regardless of what school they attend – we opted to feature all 211 post-primary schools (two less than last year) in one table and use the Northern Ireland average.
Although the schools are in numerical order depending on how many pupils achieved five good GCSEs including English and maths, the picture is generally more complex than the ranking suggests.
We have included information on the percentage of pupils entitled to free school meals, which is used as an indicator of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, and the percentage of pupils with special educational needs.
This year we have also listed whether the school's 2012 GCSE performance is up, down or the same compared to 2011 and its ranking in last year's Belfast Telegraph league table.
Other factors to bear in mind include:
- The impact of selection at 11, whereby pupils who get the top grades in the AQE and GL tests tend to go to a grammar school
- Grammar schools take in pupils up to their quota. As all schools are funded the same, on a per pupil basis, that often means that non-grammars do not fill up all their places and therefore do not receive the maximum funding that is available
- Many grammar schools also top up their coffers by asking for parental contributions
- Attendance level of pupils
- School ethos
- Teachers' attitudes
- The results are based on 2011/12 GCSEs and some pupils who failed to achieve five good GCSEs will go on to leave school having achieved the Government benchmark.
Inspection reports can also give a better indication of a school's achievements on the whole.
Some of the schools that are lower down the rankings have also received glowing inspection reports.
Also, some of the top performing schools have been rapped by inspectors.