Belfast Telegraph

Top results for threatened school

A Northern Ireland school threatened with closure has emerged triumphant from the GCSE results.

Dundonald High had twice the proportion of pupils achieving five or more grades of at least a C compared to last year. S trong performances across the region saw more than three-quarters earn A*-C marks.

Principal Ken Perry said he was immensely proud of the improvement after the authorities proposed shutting the school next summer. Critical reports had highlighted inadequate performance and an increasing number of unfilled places.

The head teacher said: "I had mothers in tears because they were just so happy with their children's results."

Around 40% of his 65 pupils achieved five or more grades A*-C. A large part of the school population includes Protestant working-class boys who studies show have been underachieving academically across Northern Ireland.

Mr Perry, a former pupil who became head teacher in April, described widespread scenes of joy at the school this morning.

"Children were delighted with their grades, parents were over the moon."

One child achieved a grade D when she was predicted an F.

The final decision on closure is for Stormont education minister John O'Dowd to make and has not been taken yet. The education board believed there were sufficient places in neighbouring schools to accommodate displaced children.

The education department has said the interests of pupils rather than institutions must be at the centre of efforts to improve educational achievement and tackle underachievement.

Mr Perry said there was an issue around the value placed on examinations by working-class Protestant boys.

"The attitude there was towards education in general needed to be addressed," he said.

"This school was somewhere that the local community thought would always be here and all of a sudden the threat to close it made people say 'we need to get on board and support that school'.

"The influx of support and hard work that has been coming from parents, community leaders, pupils and staff is tremendous."

More than three-quarters of GCSEs were awarded at least a C grade in Northern Ireland.

Strong performances in English, maths and sciences contributed to the upturn and Mr O'Dowd said efforts had been made to drive up standards.

But the proportion earning A*s fell slightly to 8.7%, compared with 8.9% last year, according to the Joint Council for Qualifications.

Girls continue to outperform boys across the grades and this year the gap has widened - a tenth of females were awarded top grades.

Students took science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects in increasing numbers but the total of grades for humanities like English literature also rose.

The popularity of GCSEs has increased, with entries rising from 171,354 last year to 176,301.

Director of qualifications Anne Marie Duffy said: " It's very pleasing to see an increase in performance at A* - C across English and mathematics, subjects that provide access to a wide range of courses and routes to employment.

"The STEM subjects continue to attract increased entries and to show a strong performance in terms of grades awarded."

Almost 33,000 pupils in Northern Ireland were due to receive their GCSE results today.

Key statistics from the results included:

:: 76.5% earned grades A*-C this year compared to 75.6% last year.

:: Boys won 6.6% of A*s compared to 7% last year while 10.8% of girls achieved top marks.

:: The proportion of English and mathematics entries awarded A* to C grades this year has risen. English is up 0.6 percentage points to 68.8% and mathematics has risen from 62.9% last year to 64.6%.

:: The proportion of entries awarded A* - C in biology sits at 91.2% (90.0% in 2012), 93.4% in chemistry (93.6% in 2012) and 94.7% in physics (93.7% in 2012).

Rises in the number of entries in biology, chemistry, physics, design and technology, engineering, ICT, mathematics and additional mathematics could indicate students thinking more about their future job prospects.

Humanities subjects were also on the increase, with more grades awarded this year in English literature, history and geography.

In modern languages, Spanish and Irish have again seen rises in the total of entries, while the downward trend for French and German continues. French still attracts the highest number of modern language examinations in Northern Ireland, with 6,250 grades awarded this year.

Mr O'Dowd launched a GCSE review after Government reforms to ensure testing at the end of courses should be adopted rather than based around modules.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the largest teaching union in Northern Ireland NASUWT, said pupils' success was achieved despite increased turbulence and uncertainty in the examinations system as the Government attempted to justify change.

"Schools and young people need and deserve a stable qualifications structure in which they, the public and employers, can have confidence and they will be looking anxiously to the outcome of the education minister's review of the qualifications system," she said.

"The minister was forced into this review by the unilateral decision of the Secretary of State (Michael Gove) to announce reform of GCSEs in England without any consultation or reference to his ministerial counterparts in Northern Ireland or England.

"It will be critical that he acts to minimise turmoil for schools and young people and demonstrates commitment to and confidence in GCSEs as a world-class qualification."

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