Belfast Telegraph

Rosemary Barton: Students of all abilities have got to be nurtured

Rosemary Barton
Rosemary Barton

By Rosemary Barton

Once again the A-level table in today's Belfast Telegraph shows that Northern Ireland has got some of the best schools in the United Kingdom.

As a former teacher for over 30 years, I consider many of the performances truly outstanding.

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

Yet it is striking that for such a fragmented education system - where there are five major separate education sectors operating - all but one of the top 10 schools are Catholic Maintained.

This dominance of Maintained schools at the top of league tables is something that is not new.

Whilst it is a credit to those schools, I believe the Department of Education and all the other sectors must now urgently examine what makes those institutions just so successful in order to learn the lessons from them.

This examination should consider everything - from how the ethos of the schools differ to how those schools embed a recognition of the importance of education and learning in local communities.

We already know that there are other factors, not least the ongoing problems in tackling educational achievement by Protestant working-class boys.

I understand several schools are working towards reviewing methods to tackle the educational gap between communities; however, this may take a number of years before there is tangible evidence of progress.

Further factors are parental support and encouragement at home, individual resilience, and a sense of connectedness to the local community. It is also important that any review considers the morale of parents and teachers across the different sectors.

In my constituency there have been several major post-primary mergers and closures in the Controlled sector on the basis that new larger premises would be built. But those have yet to materialise and as a result schoolchildren and staff are working from wholly inadequate premises.

Whilst those schools are still doing well, realistically the disruption to the day to day learning is doing little to help educational attainment.

Of course we must always remain mindful that every young person is different, they have different abilities and will seek different opportunities.

That means no matter what position in this list schools find themselves, I am confident that they are cherishing all their pupils, and not just the academic boys and girls.

Rosemary Barton is an Ulster Unionist MLA and former teacher

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