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Revealed: A-Level league tables for Northern Ireland schools

By Lindsay Fergus

A non-selective school has the highest success rate of any Northern Ireland post-primary school at A-Level, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Key to table above: August 2012 A-Level results for every post-primary school in Northern Ireland based on annual examination results provided by the Department of Education. NI average is 64.8%. Based on the percentage of pupils achieving 3+ A’Levels at grades A* to C. * denotes a figure of less than five. A-L A-Level. FSM percentage of pupils entitled to free school meals. NI average is 18.5%. SEN percentage of pupils with special educational needs. NI average is 18.2%. G Grammar school NG Non-grammar school PR 2011 pass rate

Ulidia Integrated College in Carrickfergus saw 97.1% of its pupils secure three A-Levels at grades A* to C – beating every one of Northern Ireland's 68 grammar schools to claim pole position.

The next closest school was St Louis Grammar, Ballymena, which had a 94.3% pass rate.

It has improved more than 16 percentage points on last year and climbed 39 places in our league table.

Ulidia Integrated College principal Eugene Martin said: "I am delighted that our sixth form students have once again exceeded not just the college's high expectation and targets, but also those set out by the Department of Education for Northern Ireland.

"Being the top school in Northern Ireland at A-Level is a tremendous achievement for the staff and students of a relatively new, integrated college in Carrickfergus.

"All of our sixth form students have attained three or more A-Levels or equivalent, with 64% of all results being at A* or A grade."

Mr Martin explained the school's recipe for success.

"Ulidia Integrated College succeeds by matching the needs of its students with the curriculum it offers them.

"Our curriculum is, and always will be, geared to ensure each and every child is stretched to his or her academic potential.

"It is great being the top school at A-Level but the work continues to maintain that position whilst still meeting the needs of all our learners."

Of 170 schools who offer A-Levels, 92 improved their results year-on-year – 53% of grammar and 55% of non-grammar.

The grammar school average for the percentage of pupils achieving three A-Levels at grade C or higher was 76.7% – 35 of 68 schools fell below that standard.

However, four non-grammars were above that average including Ulidia Integrated College, City of Armagh High, St Colm's High School (Draperstown) and St Catherine's College (Armagh).

Fifteen grammar schools were also below the Northern Ireland average (64.8%) including Cambridge House (Ballymena), Coleraine Academical Institution, St Columb's College (Londonderry), Wellington College (Belfast) and Campbell College (Belfast), which was 13 percentage points lower.

In the non-selective sector the average pass rate for three A-Levels at grades A* to C was 44.9% and 57 schools were below that, including 10 schools whose figures could not be disclosed because less than five pupils reached that benchmark.

Eleven non-grammars were above the Northern Ireland average.

They were Ulidia Integrated College; City of Armagh High; St Colm's High (Draperstown); St Catherine's College; St Killian's College (Carnlough); St Pius X College (Magherafelt); St Patrick's College (Dungiven); Priory College (Holywood); Devenish College (Enniskillen); Dean Maguirc College (Carrickmore), and St Paul's High (Bessbrook).

Commenting on the findings, Ukip MLA David McNarry accused the Education Minister of destroying Northern Ireland's grammar schools.

He said: "Now that John O'Dowd has shown his colours and declared, 'That is why academic selection needs to end now and my department is working to bring that about', he needs to be stopped and the funding he is using to destroy our grammar schools must be removed from this budget.

"Achievement at the highest level in education is and should be open to all.

"The anti-grammar school Sinn Fein dogma put in place when Martin McGuinness was Education Minister is based on nothing but spite.

"They simply want to wreck grammar schools in Northern Ireland and bar this particular road of opportunity for young people."

The top: Ulidia Integrated College

This Carrickfergus non-grammar school has knocked St Mary's Grammar School, Magherafelt, off the No.1 spot.

There were 36 pupils in Year 14 last year and more than 97% gained three A-Levels at grades A* to C – well above the Northern Ireland average of 64.8%, and more than double the secondary sector average of 44.9%.

It is also higher than the grammar average of 76.7%. Its A-Level performance is a big improvement on its GCSE success rate with 31% of pupils achieving five GCSEs including English and maths at grades A* to C.

Its A-Level performance is also up on last year, when 71.8% of pupils secured three A-Levels at grades A* to C. It has also climbed 52 places in our table.

On the up: Aquinas Diocesan Grammar

What  a year 2012 was for this Belfast-based grammar school.

Not only did Aquinas claim the joint top slot in our GCSE league table with 100% of pupils gaining five GCSEs including English and maths at grades A* to C, it has also improved its A-Level results year-on-year.

The co-educational Catholic 11-18 school has more than 800 pupils, including more than 100 in Year 14.

Aquinas has climbed 12 places in our A-Level league table to claim the 13th slot. It has also improved six percentage points on last year's results with 86.5% of pupils securing three A-Levels at grades A* to C.

A range of data used to compile rankings

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

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 170 post-primary schools (the same number as last year) in one table and use the Northern Ireland average.

Although the schools are in numerical order depending on how many pupils achieved three A-Levels at grades A* to C, the picture is more complex than the rankings suggests.

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.

This year we have also listed whether the school's 2012 A-Level performance is up, down or the same compared to 2011 and its ranking in last year's Belfast Telegraph league table.

Other factors to bear in mind include: the impact of selection at 11 on schools' intakes, the number of pupils in sixth form, a school's wealth, parental involvement, quality of teaching and leadership.

Inspection 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.

Also, some of the top performing schools have been rapped by inspectors.

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