Belfast Telegraph

Home News Education

Non-selective schools closing grammar gap on A-levels


The performance gap between grammar and non-grammar schools is narrowing at A-Level, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

There are now 31.8 percentage points — down from 33% two years ago when we started league tables — between the percentage of pupils in the two different sectors achieving three A-Levels at grades A* to C.

This year's A-Level league table, published today, shows that more pupils who either didn't sit a transfer test at 11 or failed to get a grammar school place are attaining good enough grades to go to university.

More than one in three non-selective schools saw at least half its pupils achieve three A-Levels at grades A* to C in 2012/13. And more than half of non-grammar schools improved their results.

The picture is vastly different for GCSEs, where the gap is a huge 56.2% based on the percentage of pupils achieving five GCSEs including English and maths at grades A* to C.

Although a grammar, St Dominic's in west Belfast knocked a non-selective school (Ulidia College in Carrickfergus) off the top of the A-Level league this year. Indeed, 10 non-grammar schools have outperformed their grammar counterparts.

They are: St Colm's High, Draperstown; Priory College, Holywood; St Catherine's College, Armagh; Ulidia Integrated College, Carrickfergus; Dean Maguire College, Carrickmore; Lisnagarvey High, Lisburn; Holy Trinity College, Cookstown; St Fanachea's College, Enniskillen; Monkstown Community College, and Sacred Heart, Omagh.

These were above the NI average of 65.2% for the percentage of pupils attaining three A-Levels at grades A* to C. They produced better results than 10 grammars, which fell below the NI average.

They were: Wellington College, Belfast; Collegiate Grammar, Enniskillen; Portora Royal, Enniskillen; The Royal School Dungannon, Dominican College, Portstewart; Strabane Academy; St Columb's College, Londonderry; Coleraine Academical Institution, Hunterhouse, Belfast and Campbell College, Belfast.

Commenting on the figures, Mervyn Storey, chairman of Stormont's education committee, said: "While we continue to have a system that is based on educational performance it is inevitable that there will be difference and variation between different pupils and schools.

"It would be a fallacy to believe that we could ever have a system in which all our children will have all the same outcomes. As our children are different, so will be their outcomes."

The DUP man added: "A challenge that the Education Minister and his department has failed to either recognise or address is how we measure achievement, or as others have described it, added value."

The A-Level league table, which features 170 schools (the same as last year) replicated the trend at GCSE — the top slots dominated by schools in the Catholic sector.

St Dominic's High, Belfast — a Catholic voluntary grammar — was top of the league table, pipping 169 other schools, while St Colm's High, Draperstown -- a Catholic maintained school — was the highest placed non- grammar.

Of the top 10 grammar schools, eight were Catholic and just two were non-denominational. And in the non selective sector, six of the highest achieving schools at A-Level were Catholic.


* Results have improved in both the grammar and non-grammar sectors

* The grammar school average for the percentage of pupils achieving three A-Levels at grades A* to C is up 0.5 percentage points to 77.2%

* 33 out of 68 grammar schools were below their sector average

* 35 grammar schools improved their results in 2012/13 compared to 2011/12

* The non-grammar school average for the percentage of pupils achieving three A-Levels at grades A* to C is also up 0.5 percentage points to 45.4%

* 57 non-grammar schools were below their sector average

* 52 out of 102 non-grammar schools improved their results year-on-year


The Department of Education collects a range of data on pupils' performance at A-Level.

We, as in the previous two years, decided to use three A-Levels at grades A* to C, as this is recognised as the standard required to secure a place on most university undergraduate degree courses.

We opted to feature all 170 post-primary schools (the same as last year) in one table and use the Northern Ireland average. We have also indicated which 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 three A-Levels at grade A* to C, 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. The figures also include pupils with special educational needs.

Our information lists:

* The school's rank based solely on the percentage of pupils to achieve three A-Levels at grades A* - C.

*  School name

* School location

* The percentage of pupils that achieved three A-Levels at grades A* to C in the 2012/13 school year.

* The percentage of pupils 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 three A-Levels at grades C and above.

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

Other factors to bear in mind include:

* The impact of selection at 11, whereby pupils who get the top grades in the AQE and PPTC tests tend to go to a grammar school.

* Schools with more pupils have much bigger budgets.

* The actual number of pupils who sat A-Levels

Also worth bearing in mind are pupils' attendance levels, school ethos, teachers' attitudes, the leadership, inspection reports, a school's financial situation, whether or not the school is in formal intervention and if it is earmarked for merger/closure etc.

* Inspection reports can give a fuller indication of a school's overall performance. Some of the top performing schools have been criticized by inspectors, while some of those lower down the league table have received glowing inspection reports.




This 11-18 Catholic maintained non-grammar school has a consistent record for academic excellence.

Not only is it currently ranked 17th out of a total of 170 schools in this year's league table, it is also the highest ranking non-grammar school — outperforming 53 selective schools at A-Level.

St Colm's, which is a co-educational school, has also seen its results improve this year to 83.7% from 80.8% last year.

This year, for the sixth time, pupils from the business studies department at St Colm's excelled once again by achieving top candidate in the CCEA A-Level exams.

In the 2012/13 year, the school had 442 pupils and 43 of them were doing A-L


This all-girls Catholic school, founded by the Dominican Order in 1870, is located on the Falls Road in west Belfast. For the first time since the Belfast Telegraph started compiling league tables it has claimed the top slot with 96.6% of pupils achieving three A-Levels at grades A* to C, up from 90.4%.

St Dominic's also performed well at GCSE with 97.8% of pupils achieving five GCSEs including English and maths at grades C and above.

Principal Carol McCann has introduced extra supervised study including evening sessions for pupils from Year 11 upwards and in exam season it opens at the weekend. The proportion of students gaining A-C at A-Level has shot up from 67% in 2008 to almost 97% this year.


*For full league table see Tuesday's Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph