Exam results in Northern Ireland: does religion matter?

View Exams results by council area in a full screen map

By Kathryn Torney

NEW figures which break down pupils’ exam achievements by their religion show a wide variation in performance in some council areas of Northern Ireland.

Detailed data on school leavers’ exam results has been released by the Department of Education in response to a written Assembly question from Sinn Fein’s Daithi McKay, Assembly member for North Antrim.

The overall figures show that 88.4% of Protestant school leavers and 88.3% of Catholic school leavers achieved at least five GCSEs A*-G including English and Maths. This leaves 2,411 pupils who failed to achieve even this very low exam result standard.

However, an examination of the data relating to council areas – based on the 20,431 school leavers’ home addresses – gives a much more divided picture.

We have used the most recent figures relating to the 2010/11 school year to create an interactive map – see above.

The figures show the biggest religious divides for pupils leaving school in June 2011 were in the Moyle and Larne council areas.

Over 95% of Protestant school leavers living in Moyle Council area achieved at least five GCSEs A*-G including English and Maths – compared to just 70% of Catholic pupils.

The gap was even wider in Larne Council area where almost 87% of Protestant pupils achieved these grades – compared to 53% of Catholic school leavers.

In reality, five GCSEs with grades ranging from A*-C and including English and Maths is perceived to be the basic benchmark pupils should aim to meet.

In February of this year, The Detail published an analysis of schools’ exam performance based on the results obtained by thousands of pupils in last summer’s GCSE and A-Level examinations.

A breakdown of the grades obtained by pupils attending each of the 213 schools in the grammar and secondary sectors was released to us by the Department of Education in response to a Freedom of Information request.

The new figures released by the department include data for the 2008/09, 2009/10 and 2010/11 school years and include a breakdown by pupils’ gender and also free school meal entitlement. There are also tables which examine A-Level performance – again broken down by gender, religion and council of pupils’ home.

The data was collected as part of the annual School Leavers’ Survey.

The full data is available in Excel format below.