Some secondary schools get better results than selective grammar schools

In days and weeks to come, there may be many ways to slice and dice the data that Kathryn Torney published in The Detail and the Sunday Times this morning.

Chris has already alluded to the potential weakness in directly comparing the raw NI stats about numbers of pupils achieving 7 or more GCSEs at grades A*-C including English and Maths with English secondary schools given the selective nature of the NI educational system.

I wondered about the blurred boundary between grammar and non-grammar schools. Were any grammar schools being out-performed by secondary schools?

The tables below are sorted by descending percentage of pupils achieving 7+ and 5+ GCSEs at A*-C including English and Maths. The colour coding helps indicate which schools are grammar and which aren’t. (I’ve included the percentage of A grades in their 2006 year 8 intake of the grammar schools.) Click on the tables to expand them.

Boundary between grammer and non-grammar schools schieving 7 GCSEs inc English and Maths

Boundary between grammer and non-grammar schools schieving 5 GCSEs inc English and Maths

On both these measures, Campbell College is the lowest performing grammar school in the 2010/2011 GCSE cohort.

Ballymena’s Cambridge House Grammar and the nearby St Killian’s College (non-grammar) have very similar GSCE results. Yet St Killian’s had no academic selection to seed it’s Year 8 intake in 2006, and has more than double the percentage of pupils entitled to free school meals.

Some non-grammar schools – a small number – appear to be able to overcome the systemic disadvantage of selection and punch above their weight, in the tougher measures that include the employability subjects Maths and English as well as in overall any-subject results.

What is it about St Patrick’s Co-ed in Magherafelt St Patrick’s Bilateral, Co-Ed College in Maghera that means it outperformed 5 grammar schools in 2010/11? Have they a sneaky supply of pupils who could have done well but didn’t sit the transfer test? While many schools manage to ‘game’ the overall number of A*-C GCSE statistics by targeting pupils with vocational and subjects suited to the pupils’ interests and abilities, achieving a good score with English and Maths included is a lot tougher.

What is it about Campbell College that means it lags behind all the other grammar schools as well as a handful of top-performing non-grammars? Campbell does not use academic selection for its full intake. These 2010/11 stats show a dip below its 2006-8 result levels.

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  • BluesJazz

    One day during his brief tenure at Campbell College in Belfast, Samuel Beckett was told that he was teaching the cream of Ulster. “Yes,” he replied. “Rich and thick.”

    C.S. Lewis spent a term as a pupil at Campbell. He wrote that studying there was “like living permanently in a large railway station”.

  • Alan, it is not only a matter of grammar and non-grammar, some of the schools listed operated a bilateral system where some places were allocated through the selection system. I assume the idea was to ensure that the intake reflected the whole ability range. When journalists report on this story they should classify the schools as Grammar, Bilateral and non-Grammar.

    See Link to a previous article by Kathryn Torney

  • Justin – Fair point.

  • On the measure of 5 A* – C grades (including English and Maths) the top performing non-Grammar (totally non-selective school in 2006) school is St Mary’s College Ballymena (actually St Mary’s College, Clady, Portglenone).

    I can’t wait to tell my form class tomorrow.

  • Pete Baker


    I think “St Patrick’s Co-Ed Comprehensive College, Magherafelt”, would be more accurately described as St Patrick’s Bilateral, Co-Ed College, Maghera.

    Which may answer your question…

    And since, as you’ve previously pointed out,

    “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”

    It does suggest that they might just be better schools.

  • rhodian

    what is it about st patrick’s? 7.2% SEN can’t hurt… the achievement of st. joseph’s, enniskillen is much more remarkable!

  • Peter, it does no such thing. A Grammar school with a spread of A to C grades with the Ds filtered for Rugby, music and the teachers’s kids is not a mixed ability school.

    We need a proper value added approach before we can say one school is better than another.

  • Alan, St Pats is in Maghera, not Magherafelt.

    I think these schools ought not to be looked at in isolation but rather within the context of educational provision in the district – including regional colleges.

  • BluesJazz

    The simple answer, as Michael Gove is already dealing with, is that some ‘subjects’ such as the unaptly named LLW (Learning for Life and Work) are regarded as full GCSE status. ditto Nail varnishing and hundreds of media studies type courses that have no academic merit.

    Also the grade boundaries for getting a grade C in English and Maths have been dropped by all the examing boards to the point where getting 2 right answers out of 7 makes the grade.

    No failures, all must have prizes.

  • BluesJazz


  • PACE Parent

    St Patrick’s Maghera admits 35% using academic selection as does Lagan College and Slemish College. (the wanna-be grammars in the “integrated” sector) Any school which uses academic selection to determine admission is therefore selective and not comprehensive. The category is not important -the results are.
    Campbell College and RBAI are Category B schools which exempt them from normal admission requirements for grammar schools. The year 8 intake profile is atypical of other grammar schools but their results at GCSE and A Level are not.

  • PACE Parent

    Kathryn Torney must explain what an A grade means in terms of marks or attainment in the transfer test. I’m sure readers will recall all the fuss over John Gardner & Pamela Cowan’s Testing the Test paper in 2000 which raised concern over the narrow number of marks which covered CCEAs grading system. I recall the much bandied out claim that 18 marks covered a low A to a high D.
    CCEA still have some explaining to do about their irrational decision to convert 11-plus results obtained as a mark and their motives in removing information by converting marks into grades. One thing parents can be assured about – if CCEA are involved pupils are likely to be disadvantaged. I hardly need to mention last years examination failures, InCAS, the enriched curriculum, the entitlement framework etc.

  • roadnottaken

    St Pat’s no longer uses any form of academic selection, it is now 100% non-selective. The school is highly over subscribed which is why it continued to operate 65/35, but it abolished this and adopted Ruane’s Dept of Education guidelines on how to select pupils..

  • FuturePhysicist

    rhodian (profile) 5 February 2012 at 10:44 pm
    what is it about st patrick’s? 7.2% SEN can’t hurt… the achievement of st. joseph’s, enniskillen is much more remarkable!

    Have to agree, I hope the same tolerance to difference is delivered across more schools. Many of these pupils and the teachers that taught them would have advantaged by “statements” which will be taken away.

    Clearly we need teachers to be able to perform more miracles.

  • St Patrick’s has been moved back to Maghera. My mistake.

  • Brian Walker

    These tables tell a depressing tale. It makes the claims of the Association of Quality Education ring very hollow . But it would be as well not to set secondaries against grammars; that way secondaries tend to lose out. And no one wants to wreck any good school. Other clear results: Catholic secondaries tend to fare better than Protestant (controlled) secondaries , Catholic grammars are surpassing mainly or traditionally Protestant grammars (Lumen Christi in Derry is No 1). Two categories other than GCSE results are available to tell us more: the A-Cs per school in the transfer tests and the number of pupils per school (smaller schools will tend to score higher). These results provide a good argument for: league tables, making clear value added ; introducing rigorous randomly timed inspection on the new Ofsted model ; substituting choice at 14 for selection at 11 and streaming and setting from the off; enhancing the vocational standards that were the purpose of the techs, which also lost out to grammars post- 1948.The education system cannot bear the whole burden of increasing social mobility but it can and must take on the early crucial stages of upskilling. Despite an failry encouraging start compared to his hapless predeccessor, Mr O’Dowd will be guilty of bigtory if he refuses to learn lessons of all kinds from the English experience of reform – as well as of course, others..

    One advantage NI has over bigger systems is that people have a picture in their heads of all or most of the schools in the system, They should use that as a focus of inspiration and aspiration for better leadership.

    Why the DUP as a core working class party puts up with this record beats me. The usual fear of change and still wanting to ape their former betters I guess, now they’ve come into their own. Maybe the fear of the Catholics (and women!) outstripping Prods altogether will compel change. But what a pity, if fear is the spur.

  • caseydog

    One irritating aspect of this journalism is the poor attention to detail by the journalist. In the Sunday Times and in the online edition of ‘The Detail’ St Josephs Boys High School in Newry was mixed up with St Josephs High School Crossmaglen. Although ‘The Detail’ was corrected this morning, after the journalist was contacted, there will be no correction to the Sunday Times.

    Several of the schools are given incorrect addresses eg St Marks HS is described as being in Newry, whereas it is in Warrenpoint. St Colm’s is in Draperstown, not Magherafelt. St Killians is not in Ballymena, but Carnlough. St Pauls College is in Kirea, not Coleraine. Etc etc.

  • Seamuscamp

    Brian Walker says:
    “Mr O’Dowd will be guilty of bigtory if he refuses to learn lessons of all kinds from the English experience of reform”

    I wonder if this is intended as endorsement or as condemnation of Mr Gove’s current obsessions (and is “bigtory” a Freudian slip?) aimed at weakening education authorities in England and appeasing mainly middle-class and commercial interests. Perhaps changing the controlled schools category would transform results. Or not. And it would be interesting to see how Mr Gove’s historically partial perception of British benevolence would translate to NI.

  • Tomassio

    Granmar, Secondary, co-ed……….these titles only mean so much. Facilities have a huge bearing and the teaching staff are the greatest facility. If the staff are top notch, the results will follow. Dont be suprised at the results. Find out what the teachers are doing right and spread the word. Attitude can be just as advantageous to the secondary teacher, as detrimental to their grammar counterpart.

  • caseydog

    The Report of the Catholic Commission on Education(published today) is notable for the decision to close several small, poorly performing secondary schools, but also for the decision to set no deadline for the ending of academic selection. This is as much to do with a failure of leadership by the Catholic Church as it is to do with the intransigence of the grammar schools. So N Ireland can continue to experience the ‘long tail of underachievement’ which is a characteristic of inequitable education systems.