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Northern Ireland schools league tables - A-Levels


Pupils at Thornhill College in Londonderry celebrate their marks in the A-level examinations. Data shows that 11 out of 68 grammar schools failed to hit the average mark

Pupils at Thornhill College in Londonderry celebrate their marks in the A-level examinations. Data shows that 11 out of 68 grammar schools failed to hit the average mark


Pupils at Thornhill College in Londonderry celebrate their marks in the A-level examinations. Data shows that 11 out of 68 grammar schools failed to hit the average mark

Many of Northern Ireland’s grammar schools are failing to make the grade at A-level, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

One in six of our grammar schools were below the Northern Ireland average last year for the percentage of pupils achieving three A-levels at grades A* to C.

The average (64%) covers all 170 post-primary schools. It reveals that several grammars are being outperformed by non-grammars.

A total of 11 of 68 grammar schools had 64% or less of their pupils attain that benchmark — the standard required to get into most university degree courses.

They were Omagh Academy; Wellington College, Belfast; St Mary’s Christian Brothers Grammar School, Belfast; Foyle and Londonderry College; Campbell College, Belfast; Strabane Grammar; Limavady Grammar; St Michael’s Grammar, Lurgan; Coleraine Academical Institution; Hunterhouse College, Belfast, and Cambridge House Grammar, Ballymena. In Cambridge House less than half (46.7%) of pupils managed to get three A-levels at grades A* to C. It is ranked 101st of 170 schools and was outperformed by 33 non-grammars.

Meanwhile, 13 non-grammar schools were above the Northern Ireland average of 64%.

Three non-grammar schools — St Colm’s High in Draperstown, Dean Maguirc College, Carrickmore and Priory College, Holywood — outpeformed 33 grammar schools with more than 77% of their pupils getting three A-levels at grades C and above.

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The average for the percentage of pupils achieving three A-levels at grades A* to C in the non-grammar sector was 44% — 41 schools were above that average. In the grammar sector it was 77% — 40 of 68 schools were above that.

DUP education spokesman and Stormont education committee chairman Mervyn Storey said: “For 2010/11 the A-level results obtained by Northern Ireland’s pupils held steady, but given the level of attainment in previous years, it is clear that our schools are succeeding in preparing children for university and the workplace.

“In Northern Ireland almost 100% of sixth formers obtained an A-level pass, 97% obtained two or more passes, while 88.5% obtained three or more passes.

“This compares very favourably with statistics from England. Northern Irish pupils outperform their English counterparts by over 6%, only 82% of English students obtained three or more passes.”

The top three schools in the A-level league table for 2010/11 are all from the north west — St Mary’s Grammar, Magherafelt, St Colm’s High School, Draperstown, and Lumen Christi College, Londonderry.

With regard to A-levels, the top performing co-educational school is St Mary’s Grammar School, Magherafelt, the best achieving girls’ school is Our Lady’s Grammar School, Newry (fourth), and the highest ranked boys’ school Abbey CBS, Newry.

Nine of the 10 best performing schools at A-level all have a Catholic ethos. Of the top 10 best performing non-grammar schools, seven have a Catholic ethos.

Mr Storey added: “It is interesting to note the relative success of the maintained sector when compared to controlled schools.

“I think the disparity is a question of ethos. The maintained sector has at its disposal sectoral support championing their schools and this is reflected in the success stories.

“For too long the controlled sector has not been given the attention they deserve. That is why we are insisting that any change in the administration of education must include sectoral support for our controlled schools.”

There are huge differences in the rankings — based on DENI data — compared to GCSE results.

They include:

  • Two non-grammars in the top 10 — St Colm’s, Draperstown, and Dean Maguirc, Carrickmore.
  • The only schools which feature in the top 10% in both GCSE and A-level are St Mary’s Grammar School, Magherafelt; Lumen Christi College, Derry; Our Lady’s Grammar, Newry; Rathmore Grammar, Belfast; Friends’ School, Lisburn, and Belfast High School.
  • The biggest climber is St Colm’s, Draperstown — up 78 places compared to its GCSE ranking.
  • Lurgan College has slumped 62 places from the top slot.
  • Both grammar and non-grammar schools with a Catholic ethos outperform controlled schools.


A-LEVEL percentage of pupils acheiving 3+ A-Levels A*-C. Northern Ireland average is 64%.

FSM percentage of pupils entitled to free school meals. Northern Ireland average is 16.7%.

SEN Percentage of pupils with special educational needs. Northen Ireland average is 18%.

G Grammar.

NG Non-grammar.

Co Co-educational.

B Boys.

Gi Girls.

* Less than five pupils

How we gathered data and calculated rankings

The Department of Education collects a range of data on pupils’ performance at A-level including two A-levels at grades A* to E.

We decided to use three A-levels at grades A* to C as this is recognised as the standard needed to secure a place on most university undergraduate degree courses.

We opted to feature all post primary schools in one table.

Although the schools are in numerical order depending on how many pupils achieved three A-levels at grades A* to C the picture is much more complex than the ranking might suggest.

We have included information on the percentage of pupils entitled to free school meals, which is used as an indicator of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and the percentage of pupils with special educational needs.

Other factors to bear in mind include the number of pupils in sixth form, a school’s wealth, parental involvement, quality of teaching and leadership.

School reports can also give a better indication of a school’s achievements on the whole. Some of the schools that are lower down our rankings have much better performance when other criteria is used and many have received glowing inspection reports for their overall quality of education which looks at pastoral care, quality of teaching, quality of leadership, parental responses, special educational needs provision etc.

Also some of the perceived top performing schools have also been rapped by inspectors and one grammar school is in formal intervention, an improvement programme.

A Department of Education spokesman said: “These figures are provisional and may be subject to change. Schools have until Friday to report any amendments to their figures.”

Behind the figures lie thwarted university ambitions

By Lindsay Fergus

A-levels are not the only route to university but they are the most recognised. University is also not the only means of securing employment, but for some jobs — medicine, architecture, nursing, law — a degree is a must.

So at a time when demand for university places is as high as ever, it’s a cause for concern that so many schools — in particular grammars — are below average.

This year the University of Ulster received 35,563 applications from 15,000 applicants for 4,000 full-time undergraduate places for September 2012.

Popular courses such as nursing require 280 UCAS points and must include two B grades at A-level, BEng (Hons) civil engineering needs 270 UCAS points and must include a B and a C grade, Bsc Hons computing science demands 300 UCAS points and must include two B grades, while BSC social work requires 300 UCAS points and must include two B grades at A-level.

When 28 grammar schools were below the sector average last year and 11 of them were below the Northern Ireland average, there must have been a lot of pupils whose dreams of university never materialised.

What the data from the Department of Education highlights is that grammar schools are not necessarily the top performing schools, and in fact some are underachieving.

It also shows there are some excellent non-grammar schools outperforming their counterparts in the grammar sector.

The data also throws up the success of schools with a Catholic ethos. Not only do nine of the top 10 performing schools at A-level have a Catholic ethos, but seven of the top 10 non- grammars also have a Catholic ethos. And if you look at the underperforming schools, just two of 11 have a Catholic ethos.

Maybe it’s time the controlled sector took a leaf of the maintained sector’s book!

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