A level futures

It’s worth noting that the heavy UK nationals papers are vying with each other as usual to provide comprehensive post-A level information services on results and university entry. This is good upmarket PR for the papers of course, but the services are impressive and tailor-made for enhancement through interactivity.
The Daily Telegraph, Times and Guardian all offer A level results school by school while the Independent carries the official UCAS clearing site for university entry.

Unsurprisingly, England dominates the results tables by force of numbers but enterprising NI schools are taking part. As well they might for they have something to boast about and promote.

So well done Ballyclare High School (I only single you out because you’re near the top of the alphabet league). Roll on all the others – get your entries in!

It’s great to see an Ulster country school scoring higher than an English public ( i.e. private, “independent”) school with fees of over 10k a year.

I realise league tables may seem invidious as they fail to take account of “value added” sufficiently, i.e. the rate of improvement in less advantaged schools . But lower performance should surely be acknowledged and explained – and improved upon.

Behind the objective info runs a powerful ideological debate of total relevance to Northern Ireland.. The Daily Telegraph runs a story concluding:

Despite a £28 billion-a-year increase in education spending under Labour, analysis of the results shows improvements are driven almost entirely by the success of the independent sector and selective grammar schools.

and adding:

Figures also revealed that pupils in Northern Ireland outperformed those in the rest of the UK, as more than a third achieved A grades. It is the UK’s last remaining selective education system, although politicians have already voted to abolish grammar schools in the province..

(not quite right, that last bit).

Ken Bloomfield and the Association of Quality Education will no doubt feel ratified in their pro-selection stance.

But they should ask themselves some questions:

Are not the state grammar results largely self-fulfilling? If you pre-select the “best” you get the best results. What is your value added performance for the others?

Many grammars have “diluted” entry and teach some non-traditional subjects, ( “creeping comprehensivisation?”). Have their A level streams performed any worse? ( Hard to measure but I bet you’ve tried and have an answer).

This is far from an open-and-shut debate and we shall return to it.

  • For anyone who is interested (and as I’ve mentioned) the actual figures for A-grade results are:
    Northern Ireland – 35.4%
    National – 25.9%

  • Ulsters my homeland

    anyone notice Catrina Ruane yesterday? For fuck sake Catrina, don’t go on and on about those who failed or weren’t happy with their results.

  • Essentialist

    The results of Performance in Public Examinations for Secondary Schools 2006/07 show that Northern Ireland’s secondary schools outperform many comprehensives.

    The real question to be answered is ‘what deceit has the change in the revised curriculum been designed to deliver?”

    Sir Ken Bloomfield can only speak with authority for Inst. AQE represents no school – it is comprised a bunch of useful fools for the GBA.
    The GBA is a group dominated by the anti-academic selection, anti-11-plus Catholic grammar schools along with people such as Wilfred Mulryne, former head of Methody and Sir Ken himself.

    What’s the delay Brian? are we having to wait for the heads and teachers to return from hols to guide you or for the DUP and UUP to announce their “compromise” on academic selection. All those parents who were promised clarity and leadership may be asking for their “fighting fund” money back.

    Grammar schools in Northern Ireland are to be sacrificed on an ideological altar. I notice that no one has responded to the stark performance of grmamars versus comps figures posted yesterday. Unanswerable.

    What has Bloomfield and Co had to say, or more importantly do, about the numeracy and literacy debacle in primary schools.

    Inst had 37% A grades admitted in 2006


    Hardly a beacon for arguing the merits of the 11-plus grading system but better than the social selection via a Pupil Profile that Sir Ken has advocated on behalf of the GBA. His delaying plan B is the alternative entrance exam but hell freezing over has greater prospects.

  • feismother

    < >

    It is the official policy of many schools not to take part in these sort of league tables irrespective of how well they do.

  • willis


    I do not understand where you get the idea that Ken Bloomfield and Dr Mulryne are “useful fools” in the service of an anti-selection body. I’m willing to be convinced. Some links would be handy.

  • willis

    “Grammar schools in Northern Ireland are to be sacrificed on an ideological altar. I notice that no one has responded to the stark performance of grmamars versus comps figures posted yesterday. Unanswerable. ”

    I certainly makes a nice change from the usual mis-spelling of grammar.

    There you go.

  • billieJoe_remarkable

    “But lower performance should surely be acknowledged and explained – and improved upon.”

    *whispers* I think that’s the POINT of the tables! Although it’s trickiier than you might think. Some people think that throwing flowers at grammar schools and to hell with the rest is a better approach. They think this is natural selection writ large. The current government or members thereof, our local reporters and so on. So salute Ballyclare if you must but I liked the wee guy on TV who said: “Three A’s. Nah, only joking. Two Ds and a B.”

  • willis

    My approach to exams has been that you passed if you got to do what you next wanted to do and failed if you didn’t. I have seen this approach refined to make sure that you didn’t waste too much effort by passing by more than you needed to.

    This approach depends on you knowing what you want to do next.

    Schools should be judged on how well they have enabled students to find out what they wanted and then enabled them to get the results they needed. Dunno how you set an exam for it though.

  • willis

    Actually this helps make my point. Thanks Arts and Letters Daily.



  • It was Sammy McNally what done it

    Although I have no great love for the involvement of religious orders in schools surely the Christian brothers (and fellow travellers) are in a very strong postion to evaluate the relative merits of selection (Non Iron) versus non selection (ROI) using the same indigenous people as a base.

  • ulsterfan


    Surely the Christian Brothers are no longer involved with education.
    Have we not learned anything this past 10 years.
    Keep the religious away from schools.

  • AQE insider GBA

    Here’s one from memory lane that should place in perspective the current claims from the DUP and UU that they stand strong on academic selection.


  • Essentialist


    This contribution to the Belfast Telegraph by Sir Kenneth Bloomfield prior to his convenient appointment as spokesperson for the AQE contains enough material for concern.


    Note his rejection of the 11-plus by the GBA (Catholic grammars). Did he realise that this also sealed the fate of the other grammars? Of course he did. Bloomfield wants a return to the old system where boys of character are selected by the school.

    In September the compromise position will be announced via Bloomfield where the Pupil Profile will be determined to be the best solution.

  • Driftwood

    The Pupil Profile: Can you show me the evidence that this has ANY merit? It must, by its nature be subjective and open to hostile reaction from parents?

  • Essentialist


    It has no merits whatsoever. It has no reliability and validity properties (unlike the 11-plus), it is replete with platitudes and has been rejected by parents in previous interations (1989 or thereabouts).
    Bloomfield and the GBA however has backed it and no doubt will attempt to apply pressure on others to accept it as a “compromise” solution.

    If the Minister wants litigation she’ll get it in spades from even the meekest of parents.

    Academic selection replaced by social selection. That’s what you get when the DUP and UUP have failed to develop a coherent policy.

  • Driftwood

    I’ve said this before. Education agenda in NI
    “It’s a mess sheriff”
    “Well if it aint, it’ll do till the mess gets here”
    Pupil Profile isn’t a compromise. It’s a failed experiment repackaged in shiny wrapping paper. Surely the State grammars will kick it in to the river.

  • jone

    I can’t help but be deeply suspicious of people who get honorary degrees then run about referring to themselves as ‘Doctor’…cf Wilfred Mulryne….Ian Paisley

  • Driftwood

    Paisley bought his “Dr” for $10 from Marvel Comics.
    He doesn’t have an academic qualification to his name, like most of the DUP. These morons are in charge because ‘intelligent’ people don’t vote in despair at the pathetic pseuds who go for election here.
    Ian Paisley does not have a PhD, he is a fraud, and so is his party. Eventually people will look back and laugh at this.
    In the meantime, all we can do is wait. History will judge these wankers in the same way as Enron, except they had IQ’s above double figures.

  • slug

    Main point here:


    We are a poor region of the UK. In the rest of the UK the wealth of the region is correlated with performance. But NI is a positive outlier – we are poor and do as well as the South East.

    See this Financial Times story for the North South divide.

    A Level Results Show UK Regional Divide

    NI is the poorest UK region, similar to the North East and 20% of A level students get an A there. But in NI we actually beat the South East where 29.1% get an A.

    Educationally, in terms of A levels, NI is the best, better than the wealthy South East.

    We are doing something right. Our system produces great A level results. That is a very good thing.

  • Driftwood

    slug, Correct.

  • It was Sammy McNally what done it

    Irish school performance North and South has always left our larger neighbour in the shade – and this is probably partly down to cultural factors which attribute greater importance to education.

    Any suggestion that is it also partly down to superior intelligence, however well grounded and tempting should not be made to avoid charges of political incorrectness.

  • Harry Flashman

    I love this time of year, it’s the time when the papers print pictures of pretty eighteen year old public schoolgirls all hugging each other in delight, sapphic posh totty, you can’t beat it.

    True to form of course the dreary commissars at the BBC insist on showing young “ethnic” lads being suitably proud of their achievements.


  • Essentialist

    Before getting carried away with the annual “superior” performance for Northern Ireland’s pupils it may be worth considering a simple premise.

    If proven it could explain the paradox of poor numeracy and literacy performance in primary schools and the higher rate of A* and As at GCSE and A level.
    An examination of the patterns of entry broken down by exam board for different school types would add important information on performance.
    The question I raise is ” has it been established and accepted that the local exams body, CCEA, results equate to the English bpards, Edexcel, AQA, OCR?”

    What if a CCEA A grade was only worth, say, 0.85 of the others?

    Given that CCEA entrants comprise only a small proportion of exam takers in the UK should it turn out that the results are not equivalent then why not close the quango down and save the taxpayer about £28 million a year.

    Remember it was CCEA who gave us the Pupil Profile, no replacement to the 11-plus, the enriched curriculum, the entitlement framework of 24/27 subjects at GCSE and A-Level.

    As an aside: Dr Wilfred Mulryne sat on their Council during this period.

  • Essentialist

    Thanks to the N.I. Teachers Council For further expansion on the problems surrounding assessment of pupils attainments. Now see:


    John Gardiner was behind the undermining of the 11-plus. His private publication “Testing the Test” was funded by Atlantic Philantropies.

    See photo at the bottom of the article on “schools working together”.

    Scan through the entire document and note the picture of Wilfred Mulyrne. Ruane, Boyd, McGuinness, Haire, Gallagher. They are all part of the self-certifying group devoid of public trust. Gardiner has little prospect of rectifying that view.