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A Beginner's Guide to Grammar Schools in Northern Ireland

Contents

  1. Does Northern Ireland have grammar schools?
  2. What are grammar schools in Northern Ireland?
  3. How do grammar schools in Northern Ireland select students?
  4. How many grammar schools are there in Northern Ireland?
  5. What are the best grammar schools in Northern Ireland?
  6. What are controlled schools in Northern Ireland?
  7. What other types of schools are there in Northern Ireland?

 

Northern Ireland (NI) has one of the best education systems in the UK, even if it is a bit controversial. Northern Irish students consistently achieve more top marks in GCSEs and A-Levels than their counterparts in the rest of the country.

According to the Sunday Times, 23 NI schools make up one in eight of the top 2,000 leading schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland has a complicated system when it comes to education and there are many types of schools in the province. Schools are still quite differentiated by religion and, although integration happens in some places, Catholics and Protestants usually go to separate schools. Read on for our guide to secondary education in NI. 📖boy in grammar school uniform

Does Northern Ireland have grammar schools?

 

Yes, grammar schools are an important part of the Northern Irish secondary education system. Many argue that the success of Northern Irish kids in GCSE and A-Level results is down to the grammar school tradition.

 

What are grammar schools in Northern Ireland?

 

The main feature of grammar schools in Northern Ireland is that they select pupils based on academic achievement, unlike other secondary schools.

Kids that want to get into one of Northern Ireland’s grammar schools usually have to sit an entrance exam known as a transfer test, or more commonly, the 11 plus because pupils do it when they are eleven or older. 

These transfer tests are probably the most controversial thing about the Northern Irish education system. Many people argue that it’s unfair to make kids sit such important exams so young and that dividing them into “academically successful” and “academically unsuccessful” groups is stigmatizing and damaging

 

How do grammar schools in Northern Ireland select students?

 

Around 60 schools select kids every year by using transfer test results. The whole process is difficult for kids and even parents to understand. 😕

At present, there are five possible tests organised by two different test organisations, the AQE and the PPTC. Grammar schools in Northern Ireland choose which tests kids need to pass to be accepted and some schools even use both testing systems.

However, 56 Northern Ireland schools have recently agreed to replace these transfer tests with just one run by the Schools' Entrance Assessment Group (SEAG). This new transfer test will start in 2023 and will be the biggest change to Northern Ireland’s secondary education system since 2008. 

 

How many grammar schools are there in Northern Ireland?

 

There are 193 secondary schools in Northern Ireland in total. Of those, 66 are grammar schools and 127 non-grammar schools. There are 63,398 kids attending grammar schools in NI and 84,520 at non-grammar secondary schools. 

 

What are the best grammar schools in Northern Ireland?

 

There are many things to take into account when deciding which school is best for your child. It’s a good idea to check out the school’s ethos and policies via their website or prospectus. 

However, if we take “best” to mean that these schools get the best results then let’s take a look at the schools with the top 10 results for the last normal year before the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the education and exams system.

  • GCSE exam results table 2019 

Source: Northern Ireland Department of Education

Position

School

Town

Type of school

% of pupils getting 5 or more A*- C grades

1st

Loreto Grammar

Omagh

Grammar school

100%

1st

Lumen Christi College

Derry/Londonderry

Grammar school

100%

1st

Dalriada

Ballymoney

Grammar school

100%

1st

Rainey Endowed

Magherafelt

Grammar school

100%

1st

Friends' School

Lisburn

Grammar school

100%

6th

Our Lady and St Patrick's College

Belfast

Grammar school

99.4%

6th

Wallace High School

Lisburn

Grammar school

99.4%

6th

St Dominic's High School

Belfast

Grammar school

99.4%

9th

St Louis’ Grammar School

Ballymena

Grammar school

99.3%

9th

Dominican College

Belfast

Grammar school

99.3%

 

  • A-Level exam results table 2019

Source: Northern Ireland Department of Education

Position

School

Town

Type of school

% of pupils getting 3 or more A*- C grades

1

St Louis’ Grammar

Ballymena

Grammar school

95.4%

2

St Dominic's High School

Belfast

Grammar school

94.5%

3

St Brigid's College, Carnhill

Derry/Londonderry

Non-grammar

92.3%

4

St Killian's College

Ballymena

Non-grammar



92.0%

5

Dominican College

Belfast

Grammar school

91.7%

6

St Louis’ Grammar

Kilkeel

Grammar school

91.2%

7

St Mary's Grammar School

Magherafelt

Grammar school

91.1%

8

Friends' School

Lisburn

Grammar school

89.2%

9

Cross and Passion College

Ballycastle

Non-grammar



89.1%

10

Rathmore Grammar

Belfast

Grammar school

89.0%

 

If we look at which schools appear in the top ten tables for both GCSEs and A-Levels then it seems safe to say Friends’ School in Lisburn, St Dominic’s High School in Belfast, St Louis’ Grammar School in Ballymena and Dominican College in Belfast can be seen as the best grammar schools in Northern Ireland for consistently strong exam results across levels. 💯

 

What are controlled schools in Northern Ireland?

 

Controlled schools are the most common type of school in Northern Ireland. They are funded by the government through the Education Authority and managed by boards of school governors. NI has 552 controlled schools which make up 49% of all schools in the province. They normally have links with the Protestant churches. Of the 146,138 pupils who attend controlled schools, 61% are Protestant, 29% are ‘other’ and 10% are Catholic.

 

What other types of schools are there in Northern Ireland?

 

Then there are what are called “voluntary maintained schools”. These are schools run by boards of governors chosen by trustees – usually Catholic, teachers, parents, and the Education Authority.

To make it even more complicated, there are also “voluntary non-maintained schools”. These are mostly grammar schools that are managed by boards of governors. 

There are also “integrated schools” which are set up to encourage Catholic and Protestant children to understand each other’s cultures and values by studying together.

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