The not-so-elitist grammar school education (with the exception of Lumen Christi and Rathmore)

An article in today’s Belfast Telegraph [some detail now online] contains the results of this year’s Freedom of Information trawl around NI grammar schools to find out about their Year 8 entrance policies for the 2011 intake.

With two different exam systems (AQE and GL assessment), varying degrees of using the overall scores or grades/quintiles, and some schools , the results are even more difficult to compare than last year (which I posted about in September). The chart below shows the number of pupils admitted as well as the range of marks admitted to a subset of NI’s grammar schools (mostly in and around Ballymena, Bangor, Belfast, Coleraine and Derry).

2011 NI grammar school intake - subset

  • Based on the figures available, Lumen Christi College and Rathmore Grammar were (like 2010) the two notable exceptions in only accepting pupils with the top grades. In fact Lumen Christi’s lowest score admitted was 242, 8 points above the boundary for an A grade (234) in the GL Assessment!
  • Schools like Coleraine Academical Institute, Foyle & Londonderry College, Hunterhouse College (Belfast) and Royal Belfast Academical Institution stand out as admitting the majority of their intake with lower grades.
  • Two grammar schools accepted 100% of the children who applied for the 2011 intake: Coleraine Academical Institution (which admitted 10 Q1, 14 Q2, 18 Q3, 27 Q4, 31 Q5 and 12 others) and Foyle & Londonderry College (11 Q1, 13 Q2, 22 Q3, 25 Q4, 54 Q5). Those two schools probably also accepted in the lowest marks.
  • Grammar schools accepting in 90-99% of their 2011 applications included St Louis Grammar, Ballymena (92%), St Mary’s, Belfast (92%), Ballymena Academy (91%), Loreto College, Coleraine (90%).
  • In some schools, the lowest score admitted in the 2011 intake was more than 5% higher than in 2010: Antrim Grammar (92->97), Belfast High (94->99), Sullivan Upper (79->100).
  • In other schools, the lowest score admitted in 2011 was more than 5% lower than in 2010: Coleraine Academical Institute (82->66), Dalriada (102->94).
  • The change in scores may reflect intake of pupils with statement of special educational needs and alternative entrance provisions.

The Belfast Telegraph article tonight points out that at least 12 grammar schools in NI accepted pupils with the bottom grades (Q5/AQE or D/GL).

Once again, analysis of the 2011 intake suggests that while a minority of grammar schools accept in only the highest performing of pupils sitting the AQE and GL examinations, the majority are educating a wide range of abilities, and a minority of grammar schools are clearly anything but elite.

Education Minister John O’Dowd told the Belfast Telegraph that

If it does not determine an academic intake, an entrance test is only a branding exercise. The ability range of those admitted to many grammar schools would not be significantly different if the school did not use the test. Why then, put children and parents through this?

None of this deals with the problem that when it comes to GCSE results (using the latest figures for 2009/2010) …

  • 6% of grammar school pupils (553 in total) left without the five good GCSEs (A*-C) including English and Maths.
  • That percentage rises more than ten-fold to 64.7% (or 8800 pupils) of students leaving non-grammar schools without five ‘good’ GCSEs including English and Maths.

9353 people leaving school without the kind of minimum qualifications that many employers require.

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  • Pete Baker


    “a minority of grammar schools are clearly anything but elite.”

    And that’s about all can be said of the Bel Tel’s analysis. Despite their ongoing campaign.

    As for the Education Minister…

    Here’s a back-link you might want to add.

  • Pete Baker

    Just to add.

    It could also be said that a miniority of non-grammar schools are complete and utter failures at educating their non-selected pupils.

    But that doesn’t tell us a lot…

  • student

    The Bel Tel has been guilty of lazy and populist journalism on this issue for a few years now. Don’t think today’s report changes anything.

  • Dewi

    Forgive me but can’t help admire Dalriada’s name. I wonder if Irish is on the curriculum there…..

  • Scáth Shéamais

    Nope, it’s the “Ulster Scots” Dalriada.

  • Congal Claen

    “The ability range of those admitted to MANY grammar schools would not be significantly different if the school did not use the test.”

    If that’s true John, then name one secondary school that comes anywhere near the results produced by any of the MANY grammar schools…

    If you can’t, as Education minister, you should maybe think about resigning as you’d obviously not be suitable for the job.

  • Ní Dhuibhir

    Congal Claen,

    Surely the point is that we should not be accepting poor outcomes from schools that do not claim to select on ability. The difference in results between schools that claim to be selective and those that don’t is the difference between kids who have always been expected to succeed and kids that have been labelled as ‘non-academic’ by adults who should know better.

  • Neil

    If that’s true John, then name one secondary school that comes anywhere near the results produced by any of the MANY grammar schools…

    If you can’t, as Education minister, you should maybe think about resigning as you’d obviously not be suitable for the job.

    O’Dowd is talking students going into secondary education, not students leaving secondary education. There’s a five year gap between the two points and as such they don’t really compare at all.

    It would appear from the above that Grammars take students with the widest range in abilities, hence the suggestion that it’s a waste of time, and expense, and unfair on the pupils and the parents to make them do a pointless exam.

    Children should not be labelled as failures at 11. Nor should they be shipped off to some shitty secondary school to be ignored by their teachers until they’re old enough to be sent out to find work in a call centre or sign on. The abolition of the 11 + was fantastic, it’s just a crying shame that Ruane couldn’t have attempted to find some other system of streaming the pupils into secondary education and built some consensus.

    O’Dowd should be an improvement. Hopefully he can achieve what she pointedly did not.

  • Old Mortality

    The fact that ‘grammar schools’ are hoovering up the majority of pupils in some areas is bound to have an adverse effect on the results of non-selective schools in those areas. The average intake into these schools is inevitably of a lower academic quality as a consequence.

  • Roy Walsh

    There does appear to be an overemphasis on getting incapable children into grammar school, there is too certainly a place for this type of specialist education but, I suspect the majority of A’Level pupils from this system go to take ‘ologies’ at third level rather than proper hard academic subjects, so perhaps the increase in full passes admitted to some schools.
    Rather than downgrade all grammars, might we not ensure some of these and most second level, including Lagan which is not a grammar, perform better by provision in vocational, necessary, fields as opposed to ‘social & health-care’ ‘media studies’ and other senseless psudo academic topics which ill prepare children to obtain employment at ages 16 or 18.
    Liaison with Universities may help here through their validation of vocational subjects, giving our young people better recognized qualifications in an international sphere, the scope to add language/accounting skills to their joinery or cookery qualifications and, from here, be able to undertake work where ever in the world it presents.

  • Roy Walsh

    ‘ so perhaps the increase in full passes admitted to some schools.’ oops, should read decrease.

  • Johnny Boy

    I’m against selection at 11, but successive education ministers have utterly failed to come up with, and communicate a viable alternative. Simply doing away with selection and trusting to luck doesn’t cut it.

  • Congal Claen

    Hi Ní Dhuibhir,

    Yip. You got the point of the post. He should be sorting the secondaries, if what he says is true.


    You’ve missed what I’m saying. If O’Dowd is saying there’s essentially no difference between the intake (which I think is bollix btw) then secondary schools should be producing results similar to the grammars. They’re not. So, obviously his “branding” comment is bollix OR he needs to sort out why secondary schools produce such bad results from a similar intake.

  • Naughton
  • Old Mortality

    You’re correct in saying that O’Dowd was talking nonsense if he implied that there is no difference between the intake in general between grammar and non-selective schools. However, in certain areas, that is true of the majority of a grammar’s intake. What is indisputable is that everywhere grammar schools attract the most academically able even if they are the minority of their intakes.
    The clever solution would be to reinstate a test for all children before they leave primary school and set a minimum mark to be achieved for grammar school admission. The result would be a signficant number of grammar schools without a sufficient number of pupils and becoming unviable.

  • Congal Claen

    Hi OM,

    Agreed. If a grammar becomes too varied an intake results will suffer – the main driver of success being peer pressure. So, some grammars need to shut top reflect lesser numbers.

  • Dewi

    From the Economist:
    Good but not that good.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Most businesses in the province have so far proved skinflint in spending on research and development.

    Typical “Economist”, IQ is measured by purchasing power albeit research purchasing power. Seems a bit of a tangent to suggest a smarter nation has more investment in science, irrespective of results.

    Not pointing fingers but…

    UK GERD per capita $473,9 per head

    ROI GERD per capita $634 per head

    Does anyone want to try to normalise this against inflation, corp tax or some other variable?

  • FuturePhysicist

    And by the way that’s $473.9 … NOT using the European system.

  • FuturePhysicist

    The only way this region will move forward is to abandon England’s “Nation of Shopkeepers” mentality, particularly the delusion of post-industrialism.