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Stark reality check for those in charge of the purse-strings

By Rebecca Black

Published 04/05/2016

Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd
Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd

The high exam grades achieved by Northern Ireland’s schools have long been a source of pride.

Therefore this stark warning that budget cuts could impact on these excellent performances will be a sobering thought to many.

That this warning comes from the principal of a school maintaining an incredible 100% pass rate (including the all-important English and maths) at GCSE for four years adds to its potency.

Deirdre Gillespie was an  inspector with the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) for a decade before she took the helm at St Mary’s Grammar in Magherafelt, and brought with her experience of every school in Northern Ireland.

She has set up support programmes for pupils at St Mary’s which have borne impressive fruit, and is understandably concerned if they cannot be continued due to funding cuts.

Overall, today’s GCSE league tables reflect more of a mixed picture academically than yesterday’s A-level league tables did, where Catholic schools took the top 11 places.

Two of the five schools which achieved the 100% pass rate at GCSE were non-Catholic.

Dalriada principal Thomas Skelton is delighted that his school jumped from 19th to joint first.

He put this down to an additional emphasis on literacy and numeracy.

These additional programmes in schools have proven their worth, yet cuts to school budgets may endanger them. And without them the bottom five schools on the GCSE league table — where less than 20% achieved pass grades — will certainly not be able to improve.

League tables are a blunt tool and they fail to reflect the sterling work done in many secondary schools, helping children to realise and even surpass their potential.

However, State exam results are currently the only means which exist to compare schools. They are used as a basic standard qualification by employers, and there is a demand from parents to be able to compare the post-primary schools they are considering sending their children to.

Methodology: how we compiled the data

The Belfast Telegraph compiled our league tables with raw data obtained from the Department of Education for A-level and GCSE examinations sat in the 2014/15 academic year via a Freedom of Information request. These figures were converted into easy to read league tables ordered from top to bottom. For GCSE results we have used the standard measure of taking the percentage of pupils who achieved between an A* to C grade in five subjects including English and maths in each school. It should be noted that many schools which produce lower percentages often scored much higher in the number of pupils who achieved five GCSEs at grades A* to C without including English and Maths.

The Department of Education does not produce A-level or GCSE league tables and does not endorse them as a “valid basis for comparing performance between schools”.

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