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Northern Ireland grammar schools 11-plus intake revealed

By Kathryn Torney

The Belfast Telegraph can today reveal details of the 11-plus grades obtained by every pupil starting at a grammar school this September.

The figures, which have been released by the education and library boards to this newspaper, show that some schools have accepted a large number of pupils with C2 and D grades — alongside their traditional A-grade intake.

Education Minister Caitriona Ruane said the statistics raise the question of why the schools need to continue with academic testing as a means of selecting pupils.

Most grammar schools are due to introduce new entrance exams in the autumn — despite the minister’s disapproval of selection.

In the most extreme situations some schools have accepted more D than A-grade students. This is the case with Campbell College in Belfast and Coleraine Inst.

This sits in sharp contrast with Rathmore Grammar having to turn away 41 A-grade students due to very strong competition for its 180 first year places.

Dalriada School also had to turn away 10 As.

The drop in the overall number of school-aged children in Northern Ireland in recent years has played a part in the widening grade entry at grammars.

As grammars fill to capacity many secondary schools are suffering from a shortage of pupils and the decrease in Government funding which accompanies this.

While Rathmore Grammar had to turn away 41 A grades — Campbell College accepted 47 D grades and just 29 As, and Coleraine Inst accepted 44 Ds and 29 As.

Dalriada School in Ballymoney accepted 127 A-grade students and no others. Friends’ School in Lisburn accepted 138 As and had to turn two other As away.

At St Mary’s CBS only 40 of its 175 intake were awarded As and it also accepted 36 Ds.

Dalriada had the highest amount of A grades accepted as a percentage of its total intake — while Hunterhouse had the lowest with 15% of its entry having A grades.

Looking at Ds, 35% of the grades accepted by Coleraine Inst were Ds, 33% at Campbell College, 22% at St MacNissi’s Grammar and 20% at St Mary’s CBS.

Twenty-eight schools accepted no D grades.

Tom Skelton, principal of Dalriada, said he was “absolutely delighted” with his intake for September but added that he was upset that they could not accept all their A grade applicants.

He said: “My personal view is that grammar schools should be more selective and should take only As and Bs.

“I am confident that we will have a good healthy application for the new entrance tests. I think they will be fairer than the old 11-plus as pupils’ marks will be based on the best two scores out of three tests.”

Dr David Carruthers, headmaster at Coleraine Inst, said: “An inspection report in January this year noted the very good improvement made by this school, that the provision is now good and that the school has the capacity to improve further.”

Ms Ruane said all children are entitled to the best education possible without having to endure traumatic tests.

She added: “Recently some grammar schools have been taking a wide ability range — including children who just a few years ago they would have turned away.

“This begs the question as to why these schools need to set admissions tests at all.

“If schools follow the Transfer 2010 guidance there will be no need for any testing of 10-year-old children.”

Uel McCrea, chair of the Association of Headteachers in Secondary Schools and principal of Ballyclare Secondary School, said: “These figures once again indicate the irony that so-called academic schools are admitting a wide ability range and, in some cases, grades which in the past would not have secured places in grammar schools.

“It begs the question: why have any sort of testing for admissions purposes?

“The tests are no more than a means of producing a pecking order for admission and this is grossly unfair on children at the age of 10 and 11.

“Some institutions are maintaining their numbers at the expense of other neighbourhood secondary schools.”

However, Billy Young from the Association for Quality Education and former head of Belfast Royal Academy, disagreed.

He said: “Over the years there have always been some schools which do not have the same strong demand for places as other schools. This has got slightly worse in recent years because of the downturn in the school-aged population.

“But, looking ahead, pupil numbers are going to go up again.

“I do not see the grade intake as a reason why we should all go comprehensive. There has always been that problem for some schools and there always will be.

“It is down to pupil numbers and the Department of Education's decisions that schools have to fill up to capacity.”

The Belfast Telegraph revealed earlier this week that 4,500 pupils have already been registered for the new entrance tests being run by the Association for Quality Education on behalf of 34 schools.

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