Belfast Telegraph

Why abolish grammar schools when other areas need attention?

By lindsay fergus

Catholic grammar schools are obviously doing something right when you look at their league table success.

  • Five of them had 100% of pupils achieve five GCSEs including English and Maths at grades A* to C.
  • Lumen Christi College has for the third year, since our tables began, seen all its pupils achieve that Government benchmark.
  • Eight Catholic grammar schools are in the top 10.
  • More than half of them have seen their GCSE results improve or stay the same compared to the previous year.

Sounds like a recipe for success.

So why then is the Education Minister so obsessed with abolishing selection?

The grammar school average for the percentage of pupils achieving five so-called good GCSEs was 93.9% – more than double the non-grammar average of 37.7%.

Yes, the non-grammar sector improved its results year on year by 1.5 percentage points – but at that rate it would take around 40 years to emulate the current grammar school success rate.

The pace of improvement in the non-grammar sector is too slow so either the department's current funding, policy or strategy is flawed.

And yes, there is the issue of equality of access but academic success is not the only barrier – school fees, which all voluntary grammars can charge, and costly school uniforms also prove prohibitive factors for some parents.

It is also a fact that all post- primary schools are funded the same and all teach the same curriculum.

The minister has urged more grammar schools to follow in the footsteps of Loreto College, St Patrick's Grammar (Armagh) and and St Michael's Grammar (Lurgan). All three have abandoned academic selection but are remaining as voluntary grammar schools, which gives them the legal right to charge fees.

It will take several years before we see what impact, if any, the decision of these three grammar schools to move to all ability has on pupils' results and other areas such as inspections etc.

It would be fantastic if more pupils achieve five GCSEs including English and Maths at grade C and above following the move, than would have done f the status quo had remained.

That would also be an incentive to other schools to follow suit.

But the minister can't wait for every selective grammar school to capitulate, action is required now so that more than one in three pupils in non-grammar schools achieve good grades in literacy and numeracy.

There are some outstanding non-grammar schools, it's to them he should be looking.


Further reading:

Every one of Northern Ireland's top five schools is a Catholic grammar

How five schools fared in the GCSE rankings 

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