Over at The Detail, Kathryn Torney has compiled a very interesting report examining the academic performance of schools in the post-primary sector in the north of Ireland. At one level, the results merely confirm what is already known- and expected- due to the continued existence of the selection process which determines entry to the grammar sector.
Torney’s report headlines the fact that, using the criterion laid out in England for assessing school performance, a worryingly high number of our schools (77 schools) would be deemed as ‘failing’. This is because they fail to secure the minimum expected level of attainment for their pupils at GCSE level: 5 GCSEs A*-C including Maths and English for 35% of their pupils.
However, that measure of performance is misleading as our system of post-primary transfer makes it considerably more difficult for our non-grammar schools to reach that threshold. Put bluntly, in a system in which the 40% most academically gifted of pupils attend grammar schools, the non-grammar sector is left trying to make the most with a pupil intake that invariably includes a disproportionately large number of pupils with severe learning difficulties, low attainment and social and behavioural problems which exacerbate the challenge of attempting to deliver a quality educational experience. That so many manage to so do is a testament to the quality of leadership, teaching and learning of all involved in those school communities.
Therefore, the most interesting aspect of Torney’s report is the comparative analysis of school performance within their respective FSME (Free School Meal Entitlement) bands.
Torney’s report includes references to specific schools in a comparative context which makes for interesting reading. These results illustrate the varying levels of performance by schools with similar social and academic intakes which points to the key issue of school leadership, and the quality of teaching, as being the pivotal factor determining performance.
This is not something unique to post-primary schools, either.