GCSE results … and 9,000 sixteen year olds

(Blog posts are better when they cover one idea at a time. This follows on from the previous post about the Belfast Telegraph’s coverage of Laurelhill Community College’s inspection report.)

The front page of the Laurellhill Community College website links to a news item from August which – while omitting any figures – explains:

the number of pupils being awarded the highest GCSE grades A* to C has risen again in Laurelhill Community College. It was particularly pleasing to see the number of students achieving A* and A grades in one or more subjects.

Upward progress is good?

Yes. However, the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) report and the school’s own more detailed figures paint a picture that is still alarming.

This all reminded me that I’d noticed something from DENI about GCSE results a week or two ago, but hadn’t followed it up. The Department of Education released a statement about Years 12 and 14 examination performance. – looking right across Northern Ireland.

There were 22,440 pupils in year 12 eligible for GCSE (or equivalent) examination entry – 9,255 in grammar schools and 13,185 in non-grammar schools. This continues the decline in the year 12 exam cohort and represents a decrease of 2,314 pupils since 2005/06, when there were 24,754 year 12 pupils eligible for the examinations.

Overall Year 12 Performance

  • 59.8% of year 12 pupils achieved 5 or more GCSEs (including equivalents) at grades A*-C including GCSE English and Mathematics, an increase of 1.2 percentage points from 58.6% in 2009/10.

The more detailed statistical report [link to Word document] gives a breakdown by gender and by type of school. (click on the table to see a larger version)

The DENI report makes the observation:

59.8% of year 12 pupils achieved 5 or more GCSEs (including equivalents) at grades A*-C including English and mathematics. When this figure is analysed by school type, 36.3% of non-grammar schools and 93.3% of grammar schools are achieving this standard. This represents a performance gap of 57 percentage points, a 3.8 percentage point decrease on the gap recorded in 2008/09 when the information was first collected.

While comparisons can be made (and have been previously) between the performance of grammar and non-grammar schools, the most disturbing thing about the report is that just over nine thousand 16 year olds in Northern Ireland finished year 12 (‘fifth form’ in old money) without the kind of GCSE results that many employers will be looking for.

Next time someone says NI has a world class education system, remember … Nine thousand. Forty percent of 16 year olds. That’s not world class.

While the Laurelhill Community College inspection triggered these two posts, I’ll finish with a positive observation made to me by a past pupil.

She recalled attending the school more than twenty years ago, and contrasted Laurelhill’s understanding of individual pupils and pupil-centred learning with the kind of factory approach adopted by some of the nearby Lisburn grammar schools at that time.

I hope to read positive inspection reports about Laurelhill Community College in the next 12-24 months as board intervention and continued efforts by staff, governors, parents and pupils take effect.

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