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Top of the class is Monkstown Community College which is set to close

By Rebecca Black and Claire Williamson

A north Belfast secondary school has scored the best A-level pass rate in the province just months before it is due to be closed down.

Monkstown Community College soared from being ranked 64th in last year's league tables to take the number one spot, beating all the best grammar schools.

It achieved a 94.7% pass rate, ahead of Catholic girls' grammar St Dominic's, which achieved 94% and topped the A-level results table last year.

For Monkstown, this is a remarkable improvement on the previous year, when it scored a 66% pass rate. But it comes just as the school says farewell -both Monkstown and Newtownabbey Community High will close this summer to be replaced by a new school for the area.

Education Minister John O'Dowd announced the move last March because both schools had significant numbers of unfilled places. He said the amalgamation will result in a "new, single, sustainable school".

Monkstown principal, Nigel Pell-Ilderton, said the past year felt like a "roller-coaster". "Our improvement is a result of not taking the foot off the pedal," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"We have increased the entry requirements into sixth form to ensure everybody that goes in has five GCSEs. We try to get them doing the right courses, give them the right offer and then it's down to staff and pupils and the efforts they put in to make it a reality."

He said the school has relaunched its A-level offering over the last few years, and said it is about "raising expectations".

"At A-level, we do the things we are good at," he said. "I think it's given them something to focus on. It's given them something to aim at, which is the amalgamation.

"The year 14s won't be here next year but we have got our biggest ever sixth form and that is on the back of work lower down the school."

Mr Pell-Ilderton said that, hopefully, in the future, there would be a bigger sixth form as pupils realised they were capable of A-level success.

He added: "There is no limit to what they are able to do. It's about raising expectations."

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