The North’s most successful schools are all Catholic, according to new league tables based on exam results.
The top 11 spots in the annual review, compiled by the Belfast Telegraph newspaper, reveal that Catholic schools outshine state-controlled schools when it comes to A-levels sat during the previous year.
The top performing grammar was St Dominic’s High in west Belfast, where 94.9% of pupils received three passes at A-level. The top non-grammar was St Colm’s High in Draperstown, where 88.1% achieved the top grades.
Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown told The Irish Catholic he was not surprised by the results.
“All the evidence from all around the world is that there’s something about Catholic education that works especially well,” he said. “There’s something about the context of Catholic education and the content of Catholic education that makes it work,” the bishop added.
The context of Catholic education, he continued, tends to entail “a strong emphasis on community” and “a strong sense of learning being a social experience rather than being a solitary experience”, along with “a big emphasis on high expectations for all”.
Distinctive to the content of Catholic education, he said, is its “inspirational ideology”, which involves such elements as “a vision of human dignity, the importance of justice, and the ability of everyone to be forgiven”, all combining “to have subconsciously pushed teachers to have high expectations for their pupils”.
Warning that Catholicism’s sociological context and theological content would make it hard for anyone else to replicate, he nonetheless suggested that the North’s non-Catholic schools would benefit from embracing “the importance of ensuring that all young people are given high expectations of themselves”.
“At present there seems to be an assumption that as long as the top end is doing well, the education of the rest is not terribly significant,” he said.
Sean Rafferty, head of St Louis Grammar in Ballymena, also one of the top 11, said the results are something “which I think the Department of Education should be looking at, they should be asking what is the magic ingredient which is making all the top performing schools in Northern Ireland Catholic schools.”