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Secondary education is not a level playing field

In response to article headlined '85,000 empty desks crisis to see failing schools shut down' (News, September 23), how does the Educational Inspectorate decide when a school is 'failing'?

In my experience, a school is labelled as 'failing' when its GCSE pass rate falls below the Northern Ireland average.

This comparison, however, is a mere number-crunching exercise and not a fair system. In reaching their conclusions, the inspectorate will ignore the fact that secondary schools vary greatly in composition and that each lives with a unique set of circumstances.

Results are not, as the inspectorate often implies, simply a reflection of teaching ability, innovative policies and effort.

GCSE results can be a product of many factors. The location of the school is significant. So are local grammars 'creaming off' even D-band transfer test pupils in an effort to fill seats?

If this is happening, the local secondary high schools will inevitably end up with a huge majority of pupils of very weak ability.

Some 'country' secondary high schools have no grammars within a 10-mile radius and, thus, are very comprehensive in intake and can produce top-class results.

But if a school has a high number of 'newcomer' pupils, who do not speak English, then resources, time and effort will have to be made available to meet the challenge. Secondary school education is not a level playing-field. When the Educational Inspectorate labels a school as 'failing', it may not be giving a fair response, but thoroughly demoralising its hardworking staff.

T J McCLEAN

Belfast

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