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League tables: Northern Ireland schools at GCSE

Leading Northern Ireland principal fears school budget cuts could have serious impact on GCSE results

By Rebecca Black

Exam grade excellence could suffer due to a cut to school budgets, it has been warned.

The principal of one of Northern Ireland’s top performing schools — which has achieved a 100% pass rate for the fourth year in a row — has expressed her concern over the impact the cuts will have on test results.

Deirdre Gillespie, head of St Mary’s Grammar in Magherafelt, said she feared decreased funding may force her to end support programmes she believed were key to the college’s success.

Principals from post-primaries in a number of sectors united last month to warn cutbacks could result in fewer subjects being offered and even shorter school days.

Ms Gillespie warned slashed budgets could also affect academic standards.

The stark warning comes as the Belfast Telegraph publishes its annual GCSE league tables.

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

Five schools achieved a 100% pass rate at GCSE (including English and maths) in the 2014/15 academic year, compared to six in the previous year.

However, on the other end of the scale there were five schools where less than a fifth of grades achieved were between A*-C (including English and maths).

At the worst performing school, Movilla — which is currently in formal intervention — the pass rate was just 13.2%.

The top 57 schools were from the grammar sector, with the best performing non-grammar — St Eugene’s College in Roslea — reaching 61st with a pass rate of 87%.

Read more: Revealed: The top performing Northern Ireland schools at A-Level

Many of the schools where the top grades were achieved spoke of the importance of support programmes, including Dalriada in Ballymoney, which improved its pass rate from 98.2% to 100% in the 2014/15 academic year, and St Mary’s,  which scored 100% for the fourth year in a row.

But there are fears tightened purse-strings  could spell the end of many of these programmes. A statement issued by a group representing the 90 post-primaries across Northern Ireland last month warned that cuts could leave some schools facing a deficit of up to £500,000.

In March Education Minister John O’Dowd announced the aggregated schools budget would be cut by 0.8%.

On top of absorbing this, schools must also fund a 3.4% rise in employer National Insurance contributions — an average £70,000 increase per school — as well as a 4.1% rise in employer superannuation contributions, and cost of living pay rises for staff of between 1% and 2.2%.

Ms Gillespie said she was worried that St Mary’s learning support programme may have to be sacrificed.

“At the moment we are cutting back considerably on some of the provisions and some of the choices that we can provide moving forward into next year,” she said.

“Ultimately I am going to have bigger class sizes; that means my teachers don’t have the same amount of time to spend with children individually and one of the things that probably will go is my learning support, and that has been the key of the success we have here.

“That worries me.”

Today’s league tables for exams sat in the 2014/15 academic year were compiled from statistics released by the Department of Education following a Freedom of Information request.

However, the department has cautioned that it does not endorse league tables as a “valid basis” for comparing schools.

“Examination results should always be considered in the context of other information about a school and its pupils; and these data should be interpreted in that light,” it said.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph