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Results reflect stress on high achievers

Paul McGill on Northern Ireland's performance tables.

Just over half of Northern Ireland's 16-year-olds gained five or more good GCSE grades last year, up from 49 per cent in 1994, according to the fourth annual set of school performance results published this week.

Northern Ireland grammar schools increased the proportion of pupils gaining five or more grades A-C from 91 to 94 per cent, but the figure in secondary schools remained at 27 per cent. The overall average of 51 per cent compared favourably with England (43.5 per cent) and Wales (41 per cent). In Scotland, 70 per cent of pupils gained five or more Standard grades 1-4, the equivalent to GCSE.

On the other hand the proportion of students gaining five or more grades A-G was lower than in England - 84 per cent compared with 86 per cent - reflecting the emphasis placed on high-ability children in Northern Ireland's selective system.

The proportion of grammar pupils picking up three or more grades A-C at A-level edged up from 39 to 40 per cent, whereas the secondary figure fell back from 16 to 15 per cent. These results are not comparable with England, which uses A-level points to measure school performance.

Some grammar schools turned in excellent results at GCSE and A-level and, in addition, showed consistency by being among the best schools the previous year.

St Patrick's Girls Academy in Dungannon got 100 per cent through five or more good GCSEs and 57 per cent gained three or more good A-levels; it was beaten at A-level only by Coleraine high, with a score of 61 per cent but with only average GCSE performance.

Fractionally behind the overall leader was Sullivan Upper in Holywood, with rates at 100 per cent at GCSE and 56 per cent at A-level. Another consistent performer, the large Methodist College in Belfast, helped 55 per cent of its pupils through three or more good A-levels. Also in Belfast, Strathearn girls' school had 100 per cent success at the age of 16 and 53 per cent at 18. Portadown College and Banbridge Academy are two others which did well in 1994 and 1995.

On the other hand, there are several grammar schools which have performed poorly in each of the latest two years despite selecting the brightest pupils at the age of 11.

Dominican College, Portstewart, was well below average at GCSE, with only 81 per cent gaining five A to C grades, while Wellington College, Belfast, performed below average at both levels.

The worst GCSE performance by a grammar school was at Cambridge House Boys in Ballymena, where only 79 per cent gained five or more good grades; it also scored below par at A-level. Cambridge House Girls, had the second worst score at A-level, only 19 per cent.

Worse still was St Louis, Kilkeel, where 13 per cent of students got three good A-levels and only 82 per cent gained five good GCSEs. Also below average was St Joseph's Convent, Donaghmore, which was recently praised by Michael Ancram, the education minister.

An indication of the imperfections of selection is that the top seven secondaries did better at A-level than the bottom seven grammar schools. St Catherine's, Armagh, Newry High School and Cookstown High School all achieved rates of 33 per cent passing three or more grades A-C, which matches or betters 22 of the grammar schools.

There is a rump of secondary schools, increasingly starved of their brightest pupils by open enrolment, which have performed dismally.

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