Belfast Telegraph

Revealed: A-level league table for Northern Ireland - Catholic schools dominate top positions

Just one non-Catholic school has secured a top 10 place in Northern Ireland's A-level league table this year
Just one non-Catholic school has secured a top 10 place in Northern Ireland's A-level league table this year
St Louis Grammar School’s principal Sean Rafferty
Victoria Leonard

By Victoria Leonard

Just one non-Catholic school has secured a top 10 place in Northern Ireland's A-level league table this year. Today, the Belfast Telegraph publishes its annual performance guide for every post-secondary school in which pupils undertake A-levels.

The statistics relate to the 2017/18 academic year. While Catholic schools held all top 10 places in the A-level league table last year, this year's results show one non-Catholic school - Friends' School Lisburn - made the top 10.

A-level school league table - check out the full list here

The Quaker school moved up four places from last year to eighth place, with 89.2% of pupils achieving three or more A-level A*-C grades.

The top-performing grammar school was St Louis Grammar School in Ballymena, a voluntary Catholic grammar where 95.4% of pupils achieved three or more top grades.

The best-performing non-grammar was St Brigid's College in Londonderry, which came third overall with 92.3% of pupils clinching three or more top grades.

The co-educational Catholic maintained secondary school, where nearly 69% of pupils are entitled to free school meals, made a major leap up the table compared with last year, when it ranked joint 43rd.

Principal of St Louis Grammar Sean Rafferty, whose school also topped last year's league table, said he was "delighted".

St Louis Grammar School’s principal Sean Rafferty

"It's down to the hard work of the young people, the guidance and direction of our staff and the support of parents to make those type of results a reality," he said.

"The consistency and the work ethic that the school has cultivated is very pleasing to make sure we're not a one-hit wonder, and that year-on-year we can deliver for the young people and hopefully allow them to meet their career aspirations as a result."

Mr Rafferty said there was "no secret" to the school's success, "just hard work".

"It's continuously looking at new teaching and learning strategies and implementing those, making sure that we treat every young person in a personalised way," he added.

"We see early intervention, areas of their development and academic progress that are not where they should be, and in a non-intimidatory way we try to make sure we make that young person have the self-belief that they can achieve."

Reflecting on the faith-based ethos of the top 10 schools, Mr Rafferty said there is a "certain essence to a faith-based education".

"There is a sense of collegiate responsibility there that maybe doesn't exist in more secular models," he added.

"It's proven, tried and tested across the world that the faith-based models are the most successful, and I think there's something there that people have to take on board.

"We're not only successful academically, but I would argue that our success is in delivering a holistic education profile to young people so they are well equipped for the world of work, university or contribution to society."

Mr Rafferty hit out at the pressures on school budgets here.

"I think there needs to be a root-and-branch reform of the way that schools are funded," he said.

"The results are fantastic and we have consolidated our position. This means that teachers are working twice as hard with less resources, and it's just a very unfair playing field that educationalists are working in at the moment.

"Every year we seem to be asked to do more with less. Our government needs to look at how it can continue to expect high outcomes while putting in the minimum amount of money."

St Dominic's in west Belfast, a Catholic voluntary grammar school for girls, was second in the A-level league table with 94.5% of pupils achieving three or more A*-C grades.

Principal Carol McCann said their results "reflect the hard work of the staff and the pupils" and the partnership with parents.

She said the school had "great support from the community, and that students' parents very much value the importance of getting a good education in a very competitive market for jobs".

"There is a long tradition of doing your very best. The big focus in our school is on values, shared values, and doing what is right and the whole idea that they have a God-given talent and it's up to them to make the best and for us to bring out the best in the children," she said.

"In our school we have a big focus on girl power, that if you work hard enough you can be whatever you want to be."

The Department of Education said that the information contained in the table relating to A-level results "does not provide a valid basis for comparing performance between schools, since it takes no account of intakes of the schools or of any other factors that may affect pupil performance".

It added: "No single measurement can constitute a fair or accurate evaluation of a school, and the figures should be considered in the context of other information about schools and their pupils."

The Belfast Telegraph obtained data from the Department of Education for A-levels sat in the 2017/18 academic year and compiled the figures into easy-to-read tables, ordered top to bottom. It shows the percentage of pupils achieving three or more A-levels at grades A*-C.

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