Innovative approaches to raising standards in controlled schools

The Controlled Schools’ Support Council (CSSC) has today, Monday 11 June, published a series of case studies highlighting the innovative work being carried out in controlled post primary schools to enable pupils to reach their full potential.  

This coincides with a report by CSSC which explores patterns of attainment in the controlled sector and the destinations of school leavers. 

The report’s findings show that 61% of controlled school pupils achieve five or more GCSEs at A* - C (including English and maths), a greater proportion than in the maintained and grant maintained integrated (GMI) sectors.  The report adds to the growing body of evidence that pupils in the controlled sector entitled to free school meals are underachieving, particularly male pupils, when compared to other sectors. 

Practice across the controlled sector is characterised by a range of innovative approaches that focus on raising attainment. The case studies published by CSSC today represent a small sample of the excellent work being carried out by local schools. The featured case studies are Lisneal College, Priory Integrated College, Markethill High School, Regent House School and Laurelhill Community College.  

CSSC Chief Executive Barry Mulholland said, 

Controlled schools account for nearly half of all schools in Northern Ireland with over 142,000 pupils.  

They are inclusive, open to all faiths and none, and this is reflected in the diversity of pupils who attend.  For example, across the sector, 65% of pupils are Protestant, 10% are Catholic and 25% are of no religion or ‘other’.  In addition, almost 30% of pupils are entitled to free school meals. 

When the statistics are considered, the complexity of factors impacting on pupil attainment becomes apparent. Pupil attainment is complex.  Blunt measures such as GCSE results do not reflect the added value that many schools achieve to enable pupils to realise their potential. 

CSSC has worked with a number of post primary schools to ascertain how they are working to improve pupil achievement. The case studies published today give a sample of the creativity and innovation of schools in the controlled sector. 

A number of the case studies emphasise the importance of effective pastoral care, no only in terms of enhanced educational outcomes but also in preparing emotionally healthy, happy and resilient young people. 

For example, Lisneal College has focused on its pastoral care, resulting in boys outperforming girls.  Priory Integrated College has focused on pastoral care as well as broadening the curriculum offer.  This method was also employed in Laurelhill Community College, opening up a range of progression pathways to pupils.   

Staff development has been key to improving attainment at Markethill High School and Regent House which, combined with effective use of data has led to better attainment, showing the importance of data and having an evidence base to implement change. 

Looking at school leaver destinations, the report shows that controlled grammar school pupils are on a par with voluntary grammar pupils in entering higher education.   

Controlled secondary school pupils are more likely to choose further education (51%) and training (16%) compared to their counterparts. 

Barry Mulholland continued, 

An education system should equip pupils with the skills they need to fulfil their potential. The successful achievement of qualifications which open the door to further study, employment and career opportunities are central to a school’s role in preparing pupils for adult life, whichever path they choose. 

While higher education is the next step for many pupils, it is important that further education and training as a route for pupils is also supported.  Northern Ireland has a diverse range of employers, and young people need skills to enhance their employability and meeting changing workplace needs.

Every pupil is different and schools should support each young person in choosing a route which best reflects their interests and aspirations.

If schools are to enable pupils to fulfil their potential, particularly those entitled to free school meals, then more resources, such as the extended schools programme, should be targeted at this particular cohort of pupils.

CSSC’s key findings and the post primary case studies can be found here

Published 11 June 2018