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Every one of Northern Ireland's top five schools is a Catholic grammar

Sector targeted by John O'Dowd leads Belfast Telegraph GCSE league table


Catholic schools are outperforming all non-denominational schools at GCSE level, it can be revealed.

Five Catholic voluntary grammar schools have claimed the coveted top slot in this year's Belfast Telegraph league table.

St Joseph's Grammar, Donaghmore; Rathmore Grammar, Finaghy; St Mary's Grammar, Magherafelt; Our Lady's Grammar, Newry and Lumen Christi College, Londonderry all saw 100% of their pupils achieve five GCSEs including English and Maths at grades A* to C last year to rank joint first.

Since the Belfast Telegraph league tables began in 2012, it is the first time that schools in the Catholic sector have exclusively dominated the number one position.

And of the 10 highest achieving schools -- eight are now Catholic voluntary grammars compared to just four in 2013 and 2012.

The findings come just weeks after Sinn Fein Education Minister John O'Dowd gave approval to two Catholic grammar schools to abandon academic selection -- St Patrick's Grammar, Armagh and St Michael's Grammar, Lurgan.

St Michael's Grammar, Lurgan, which has improved its GCSE results year-on-year is to amalgamate with bottom of the league table schools, St Paul's Junior High and St Mary's High, both in Lurgan, to form a new non-selective voluntary grammar.

Meanwhile the historic St Patrick's Grammar, Armagh, has stopped selection with immediate effect.

A third grammar school, Loreto College, Coleraine, has already moved away from selection.

However, it will take several years to see if that decision has any impact on the three schools' GCSE results.

The two non denominational schools in the top 10 are Sullivan Upper, Holywood (voluntary grammar) in sixth place and Collegiate Grammar School, Enniskillen in 10th (controlled grammar).

It is also the third consecutive year that Lumen Christi College has been joint first with 100% of pupils achieving five so-called good GCSEs -- a feat no other school has been able to match.

But it is also a similar picture in the non-grammar sector with a Catholic maintained school outperforming schools in other sectors.

St Catherine's College, Armagh has retained its dominance of the non grammar sector with 71.7% of pupils achieving five GCSEs including English and Maths at grades C and above -- its results pipping two grammar schools, St Mary's Christian Brothers' Grammar (Belfast) and Strabane Academy.

And of the top 10 non grammar schools seven are Catholic maintained: St Catherine's College, St Patrick's High, Keady; St Patrick's co-ed Comprehensive College, Maghera; St Patrick's College, Banbridge; St Colmcille's High, Crossgar and Our Lady of Lourdes High, Ballymoney.

But of the 138 non grammars just 63 (less than half) were above their sector average with just 37.7% (one in three) of pupils achieving five GCSEs including English and Maths at grade C and above.

However, results have improved across the board with the Northern Ireland average, grammar average and non grammar average for the percentage of pupils achieving five good GCSEs all up year-on-year.

It is the third consecutive year the Northern Ireland average has risen, up from 60.1% to 60.9%.

The grammar school average is up from 92.9% to 93.9% while the non grammar average has seen the most improvement up from 36.2% to 37.7%.

Though while the picture is one of improvement -- of the 206 post primary schools just 74 (one in three) is on or above the Northern Ireland average with at least 60.9% of their pupils achieving five GCSEs including English and Maths at grades A* to C.

Of the 74 schools, 67 (out of 68) were grammars and just seven (out of 138) were non-grammars.

The non-grammars were Aughnacloy College, Slemish College (Ballymena), St Patrick's College (Banbridge), St Patrick's co-Ed Comprehensive (Maghera), St Patrick's High (Keady), Rathfriland High and St Catherine's College (Armagh).

This year 22 grammar (32%) schools fell below their sector average with less than 93.9% of pupils achieving five good GCSEs.

And just 91 (44%) schools had half or more of their pupils achieve five GCSEs including English and Maths at grades A* to C.


Top five grammar schools:

Lumen Christi College (Londonderry)

Our Lady's Grammar (Newry)

Rathmore Grammar (Finaghy)

St Joseph's Grammar (Donaghmore)

St Mary's Grammar (Magherafelt)

Top five non-grammars:

St Catherine's College (Armagh)

Rathfriland High

St Patrick's High (Keady)

St Patrick's Co-Ed Comprehensive (Maghera)

St Patrick's College (Banbridge)

Top five boys' schools:

Portora Royal (Enniskillen)

St Patrick's Grammar (Downpatrick)

St Malachy's College (Belfast)

St Colman's College (Newry)

St Columb's College (Derry)

Top five girls' schools:

Our Lady's Grammar (Newry)

Loreto Grammar (Omagh)

Collegiate Grammar (Enniskillen)

Thornhill College (Derry)

Strathearn (Belfast)

Top five integrated schools:

Slemish College (Ballymena)

Drumragh Integrated College (Omagh)

New-bridge Integrated College (Loughbrickland)

Sperrin Integrated College (Magherafelt)

Lagan College (Belfast)

Top five Catholic grammar schools:

Lumen Christi College (Londonderry)

Our Lady's Grammar (Newry)

Rathmore Grammar (Finaghy)

St Joseph's Grammar (Donaghmore)

St Mary's Grammar (Magherafelt)

Top five non-denominational grammar schools:

Sullivan Upper (Holywood)

Collegiate Grammar School (Enniskillen)

Portora Royal (Enniskillen)

Friends' (Lisburn)

Ballymena Academy

Top five Catholic non-grammar schools:

St Catherine's College (Armagh)

St Patrick's High (Keady)

St Patrick's Co-Ed Comprehensive (Maghera)

St Patrick's College (Banbridge)

St Colmcille's High (Crossgar)

Top five controlled non-grammar schools:

Rathfriland High

Aughnacloy High

Kilkeel High

Dromore High

Ballycastle High


* Compiled by Lindsay Fergus. For the full league table, see today's Belfast Telegraph.

More must be done to close peformance gap: O'Dowd

THE Education Minister has admitted that despite rising standards "much more needs done".

He told the Belfast Telegraph: "This continuing improvement is welcome news. However, it is obvious that there is much more that needs done. I am clear that I want to see not only a growth in standards, but also a closing of the performance gap."

John O'Dowd attributed the improving picture to a number of factors including the department's ongoing focus "on raising educational outcomes for young people".

However, despite the success of grammar schools, and particularly Catholic grammar schools, Mr O'Dowd said: "I want to see every child fulfil his or her potential and am committed to driving out the inequities that still exist within our system."

More resources will be targeted to help schools provide support for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds "in order to reduce the level of educational underachievement that persists and break the link between social disadvantage and low educational outcomes," he explained.

He added: "The continued use of academic selection by grammar schools is also a barrier to addressing educational underachievement in disadvantaged communities. The campaign to end academic selection is not only an educational issue, it is an equality issue."

Mervyn Storey , chairman of the Assembly's Education Committee and Education spokesman for the DUP, has also welcomed the improving standards but claimed they highlight an inequality in the system "which is now impacting on schools and pupils".

He stated: "The maintained sector has benefited from additional support structures for school improvement for some considerable time.

"Not only do they receive substantial support from the Boards but for the last 20 years CCMS has been resourced to support the Catholic maintained schooling system. This has also meant that the sector has had a body which could be a strong advocate for additional resources to meet the needs of its schools.

"It is now time for the minister to establish an effective controlled schools body which can support this sector in bringing about similar and sustained improvements.

"This is the real equality issue at the heart of our education system to which the minister needs to turn his attention."

How we gathered data and calculated rankings

THE Department of Education collects a range of data on the performances of pupils at GCSE level.

We, as in the previous two years, 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 minimum level for every pupil – regardless of what school they attend – we opted to feature all 206 post primary schools (five less than last year) in one table and use the Northern Ireland average.

We have also indicated what type of school it is – grammar or non-grammar.

Although we have put the schools in numerical order based on the percentage of pupils achieving five GCSES, including English and Maths at grade C or above, the picture is generally more complex than the ranking suggests.

The data has been taken from the Northern Ireland School Census, Summary of Annual Examination Results, provided by the Department of Education, which includes GCSEs and equivalent qualifications. The figures also include pupils with Special Educational Needs.

Our information lists:

* The school's rank based solely on the percentage of pupils that achieved five GCSEs including English and Maths at grades A* – C.

* School name

* School location

* The percentage of pupils that achieved five GCSEs or equivalents including English and Maths at grades A* to C in the 2012/13 school year.

* The percentage of pupils who are entitled to free school meals, which is used as an indicator of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

* The percentage of pupils who are recognised as having Special Education Needs.

* Whether a school is a grammar or non-grammar.

* Up, down or same is a year-on-year comparison (2012/13 to 2011/12) of how many pupils achieved five GCSEs, including English and Maths at grades C and above.

* And the last column shows where we ranked the school in 2013.


Further reading:

How five schools fared in the GCSE rankings

Why abolish grammar schools when other areas need attention?  


From Belfast Telegraph