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Northern Ireland school league table: The only means to make a comparison

By Rebecca Black

It's a tale of two league tables.

At GCSE level, every single school in the top 67 is a grammar school. Grammars dominate the charts for these universal exams that every child who attends school in Northern Ireland must sit.

There can be no doubt that this fact will be something which most grammar supporters will see as a feather in their cap as they continue to fight for the right to use academic selection at 11 to determine their intake.

Yet in the A-level rankings, the non-grammars are chipping away at the prestige schools - even snatching the top spot.

It is impossible not to be touched by the Monkstown Community College's magnificent last stand. Just months before being amalgamated out of existence, it is going out in style.

Of course it can be argued like is not being compared with like. Monkstown had just 19 pupils sitting A-levels last year, compared to nearest rival St Dominic's, which had 133 girls, and Thornhill College, which had 188 pupils to guide through the key exams.

One thing that cannot be in doubt, however, is that the top performance at GCSE is getting even better.

Last year it was extraordinary to see five schools ensuring 100% of their pupils obtained at least five good GCSEs, including English and maths. This year, that total has increased to six.

Catholic schools have again continued to shine as a sector. For a second year in a row, eight out of ten of the top schools at GCSE were from the Catholic sector.

League tables rightly spark heated debate. They are a blunt tool which arguably are always going to favour grammar schools who take the cream of our young brains when they are aged 11. And they fail to reflect the sterling work done in many secondary schools across Northern Ireland, helping children to realise and even surpass their potential.

However, GCSE and A-level results are the only means which exist to compare schools. They are used as a basic standard qualification by employers.

There is a demand among parents to be able to compare the post-primary schools they are considering sending their children to, and as the newspaper of record in Northern Ireland, we feel it a duty to produce them each year.

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