Northern Ireland’s schools praised for work to close the gap

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Secondary schools in Northern Ireland are increasingly breaking the link between social disadvantage and educational attainment.

Non-selective schools across the North, which have high levels of free school meal (FSM) entitlement, are achieving record results in GCSE English and mathematics.

Numerous schools have been highlighted as examples of good practice in a new report by inspectors.

Their report contains examples of good practice in the delivery of English and mathematics, and will now be issued to all post-primary schools.

Inspectors will also use the best practice identified to help other schools with high FSM levels raise standards.

FSM entitlement is the simplest and most common measure of social disadvantage in schools.

There is an established link between FSM and performance – typically the higher number of children receiving meals, the poorer a school’s exam results.

One of those singled out for praise is Holy Trinity College in Cookstown, Co Tyrone. There, the English teachers set realistic, high expectations, which challenge and motivate pupils. The report said they monitor and track the progress of individual pupils, measuring attainment at the end of the key stages and in public examinations. Pupils now have increased confidence in communication, thinking skills, and personal capabilities. 

Elsewhere, at St Mary’s College in Clady, south Derry, inspectors say literacy is actively promoted in a wide variety of ways. Almost one quarter of pupils are entitled to FSM, but the proportion of year 12s achieving five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C including English and mathematics is 68.3 per cent.

At St Mary’s, the pupils’ week begins with a whole-school assembly that regularly focuses on literacy. Younger pupils visit the school library on a fortnightly rota as part of a “reading Olympics” scheme.

In addition, 6th-formers play a key role in promoting reading and writing skills, acting as literacy mentors for younger pupils.

“The fact that this school is able to deliver such outstanding value for taxpayers’ money is largely due to the flexibility of the school’s governors and staff,” said principal Basil Donnelly.


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