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Revealed: Shocking level of failure in Northern Ireland's schools

By Rebecca Black

One in three of our secondary schools need to be improved, the chief inspector of education has found.

The Education and Training Inspectorate observed over 9,000 lessons in schools across Northern Ireland.

In a report released today, it concluded that Northern Ireland has a good education and training system, but states that it is not world class.

The findings include:

• 21,000 children attend schools that need to be improved

• 1 in 3 secondary schools could not be evaluated as good

• 15% of secondary schools were deemed to be less than satisfactory

• 40% do not achieve five good GCSEs (including English and Maths)

• Only 17% of boys entitled to free school meals attending controlled non grammar schools achieved five good GCSEs last year

• 5,000 children are leaving primary schools annually with standards that are not good in literacy and numeracy

The report found that primary and pre-schools performed much better than secondary schools.

Of the pre-schools inspected, 83% were evaluated as good or better, an improvement of seven percentage points from the last report.

Of the primary schools inspected, 84% were good or better, with 59% deemed as either very good or outstanding.

GCSE results have improved only marginally from last year. In 2012 60.1% achieved five good GCSEs (including maths and English). This rose to 60.9% in 2013.

Good GCSEs are defined as at least a grade C or better.

Girls are continuing to perform much better than boys, with 65.5% of girls achieving five good GCSEs compared to 56.4% of boys.

Those from deprived backgrounds are still falling behind, with only 34.9% of children entitled to free school meals gaining five good GCSEs.

This sinks to 17% for boys on free school meals who attend controlled non grammar schools. However, the performance gap between grammar schools and non grammars is continuing to narrow.

In 2005/6 the gap of five or more good GCSEs between grammars and non grammars was 53.2 percentage points, in 2012/13 this had reduced to 30.1 percentage points.

"The improvement in the percentage of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs in non-grammar schools reflects favourably on the hard work and perseverance of such schools in driving up standards and securing good outcomes for their pupils," the report found.

But the gap widens when the core subjects of Maths and English are included.

"It is not acceptable that over 60% of pupils in non-grammar schools are still not achieving five or more GCSEs at A*-C including GCSE English and Mathematics," the report said.

Too many pupils have unacceptably poor attendance which contributes to low achievement, the report also found.

It additionally noted that 92% of the school population is still being educated in either Catholic maintained schools or controlled schools attended mostly by Protestant children.

Northern Ireland's six further education colleges were found to have improved significantly.

One college was found to have been outstanding, one very good, three good and one satisfactory.

Our only agricultural college was also inspected and evaluated as "very good".

Noelle Buick, chief inspector of the ETI, said that education continues to improve and deliver for the majority, but that challenges remain.


  • 21,000 children attend schools that need to be improved (6% of total school population of 335,325)
  • 1 in 3 secondary schools could not be evaluated as good
  • 40% of pupils do not achieve five good GCSEs (including English and Maths)
  • 5,000 children are leaving primary schools annually with  standards of literacy and  numeracy that are not good
  • 13% of pre-schools are not able  to meet the criteria to be  considered good
  • 12% of primary schools are not able to meet the criteria to be considered good
  • 47% of non-grammar schools are providing maths tuition that is  not good enough
  • 40% of school English departments are deemed not good enough
  • 10: Northern Ireland schools are still in formal intervention

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