| 7.2°C Belfast

What went wrong at these Northern Ireland schools?


St Gemma's High School

St Gemma's High School

Lisnagarvey High School

Lisnagarvey High School

Brian Little

Dunmurry High School

Dunmurry High School

Brian Little


St Gemma's High School

Three schools being helped by the Department of Education after receiving damning inspection reports were judged to be providing a “very good” quality of teaching just two years ago.

Lisnagarvey High School, Lisburn; Dunmurry High School and St Gemma’s High School in north Belfast were all deemed to be providing a “satisfactory” quality of education by the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) in a previous report.

Yesterday the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the three schools have now been placed in a formal intervention process after inspectors rated the quality of education as “inadequate”.

Questions are now being asked as to how the schools deteriorated in such a short timeframe, which has resulted in them entering into formal intervention — a process currently involving just 1% of Northern Ireland’s schools.

The three schools were all inspected between November 2008 and March 2009 and while inspectors flagged up a few areas of concern, it was found at the time “the strengths outweigh areas for improvement in the provision” and “in most of the areas inspected the quality of education provided in this school is satisfactory”.

Yet follow-up inspections at Lisnagarvey, Dunmurry and St Gemma’s in recent weeks rated the quality of education at the schools as “inadequate”, and all three were criticised for GCSE results well below the average in Northern Ireland.

UUP education spokesman Basil McCrea expressed shock that Lisnagarvey and Dunmurry High Schools were placed in formal intervention.

Daily Headlines & Evening Telegraph Newsletter

Receive today's headlines directly to your inbox every morning and evening, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

However, he hit out at the Department of Education for “completely failing to address the educational underachievement in Protestant working class boys”.

Dunmurry and Lisnagarvey are controlled secondary schools, which traditionally attract pupils from the Protestant community.

Mr McCrea said: “Both schools have provided a significant contribution to the local community and are working in areas of high need. I am surprised by the results and I want to have a look at the ETI’s findings.”

He added: “Lisnagarvey High School has made significant improvements over the last number of years.”

When Lisnagarvey was inspected in November 2008 it was found that approximately 73% of the intake did not participate in the transfer procedure, approximately 40% of the pupils were entitled to free school meals and the school had identified 11% of the pupils as having special educational needs.

Strengths identified by inspectors included the significant improvement in the standards reached by those pupils taking five or more GCSEs at A*-C. This contrasts with recent findings that rapped Lisnagarvey for just 7% of pupils obtaining grades C or above in five or more GCSE subjects.

At the time of Dunmurry’s inspection in February 2009, 71% of pupils did not participate in the transfer procedure, approximately 39% of the pupils were entitled to free school meals and the school had identified almost 30% of the pupils as having special educational needs.

The main strengths of the school included the quality of the teaching in the majority of the lessons observed. Yet in March, inspectors raised concerns about decreasing GCSE results after just 4% of pupils achieved A*-C grades in five or more GCSE subjects including English and maths.

Alban Maginness, who is seeking re-election to the Assembly for North Belfast, expressed sadness and disappointment that St Gemma’s had been placed in formal intervention but said that he hoped the process would revitalise the school.

And he explained that the all-girl Catholic school, located off the Oldpark Road, was based in an area with serious social and economic problems.

Those points were recognised by inspectors in March 2009 who said: “The school serves an area which suffers from high levels of deprivation, unemployment and a wide range of social problems. Most of the pupils who transfer to the school do not participate in the transfer procedure.”

Mr Maginness said: “St Gemma’s has for many years provided a very fine education and has a very good reputation and I would hope with the intervention the school can fully recover its position and continue to provide a high level of education to young people in that area.”

In 2009 the ETI praised “the caring and dedicated” principal for working “very hard to introduce and oversee initiatives that have improved the life-chances of the pupils”.

However, last month it was criticised for just 10% of pupils obtaining grades C and above in GCSE subjects including English and maths.


The formal intervention process was introduced as part of the school improvement |policy that Sinn Fein Education Minister Caitriona Ruane |published in April 2009.

The process is designed to |ensure that schools in Northern Ireland receive the tailored support they need from their local education and library board, working in partnership with other support bodies, to deliver improvement.

Top Videos