Northern Ireland

St Paul's High School, Bessbrook: 'Good' GCSE passes for boys almost double

A mural on a wall at St Paul's High School in Bessbrook that reads: Let's eat kids. Let's eat, kids. Punctuation saves lives!
Image caption St Paul's High School has said its special measures had produced startling results

A County Armagh school has almost doubled the amount of "good" GCSE passes by boys in just two years.

In 2013, 36% of boys at St Paul's High School in Bessbrook got five GCSEs at grades A* to C, including English and maths.

By 2015, that had risen to 65% in the school, which has more than 1,500 pupils.

The improved results are due to the introduction of new measures and programmes aimed specifically at boys.

St Paul's High School

Pupils who received 5 grades at A* to C, including English and Maths


of boys in 2013


of boys in 2015

  • 63% of girls in 2013

  • 70% of girls in 2015

By contrast, the number of girls achieving five GCSEs at grades A* to C, including English and maths, was 63% in 2013 and 70% in 2015.

The special interventions the school put in place included new GCSEs in subjects like agriculture and horticulture, and weekly meetings to discuss pupils' progress.

Image caption The school has introduced new GSCEs, including agriculture and horticulture

Christine Fearon, the school's head of pastoral care, said the approach was intensive.

"It's constant monitoring and review, a bit like big brother watching you, unfortunately for some of our boys," she said.

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Media captionChristine Fearon, the head of pastoral care at St Paul's High School in Bessbrook

"We meet every week and carry out a series on audits on behaviour and attendance and on the ground we focus on literacy and numeracy."

The school has also employed more men as classroom assistants to provide male role models for boys.

Paudie McMahon is a classroom assistant at St Paul's and said his presence made a difference for male pupils.

"Some of the younger male students are a bit disillusioned and unfocused and maybe don't have a male role model at home," he said.

Image caption A male influence in the classroom had helped some boys, Paudie McMahon said

"I've been through the system so I know the need to work hard to get the most out of life."

Staff at St Paul's also say male relatives are involved in any discussions about pupils with teachers and attend parents' meetings.

Gavan Quigley's son Caleb is a pupil.

He said: "I suppose traditionally it's the mother's role with the schooling.

Image caption St Paul's has been praised for its "successful focus" on improving boys' GCSE results

"Teachers here will either phone you or send you an email to keep you in the loop with anything.

"I think it makes a great difference from a father's point of view because we feel very much involved in what's going on."

St Paul's has recently been rated as outstanding in an inspection by the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI).

The ETI praised the "successful focus" the school had brought to improving boys GCSE results in its inspection report.