St. Paul’s sets benchmark for boys’ education

March 7, 2016

St. Paul’s High School has scored a major achievement with the amount of “good” GCSE passes by male students almost doubling in the last two years. Figures revealed in the school’s latest inspection report by the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) revealed that in 2013, 36% of St. Paul’s boys got five GCSEs at grades A* to C, including English and maths. By 2015, that figure had risen to 65%.

The ETI report also rated the Bessbrook school, which has more than 1500 pupils, as “outstanding” and praised the “successful focus” the school had brought to improving boys GCSE results.

According to Principal, Jarlath Burns, the improved results are due to the introduction of new measures and programmes aimed specifically at boys, which includes a blended approach between the school’s pastoral and academic teams where the focus on boys is given top priority.

“We have developed a number of new measures to tackle underperformance in boys and we are delighted that they have proven so successful,” said the proud Principal.

“When parental intervention or support is required, we always ask to speak to Dad as we believe a strong male role model helps pupils’ self-perception. St. Paul’s also maintains very close links with our partner primary schools which allows for a seamless transition from P7 to Y8 which helps to close the gap in learning which arises between the two phases.

“The relatively unique provision of young, male classroom assistants who work very effectively with disillusioned and under-performing boys also helps to build confidence and security with the male pupils and allows for effective and target support and intervention.

“Our ‘Boys Read Books’ programme has shown significant positive outcomes in terms of improving literacy which then has a knock-on positive effect on whole-school outcomes including exam results, careers opportunities. We have found that, for the first time ever, more boys are now borrowing books from the school library.  This is concrete evidence that the programme is working and having a positive effect.”

The special interventions the school has put in place also include new GCSEs in subjects like agriculture and horticulture, and weekly meetings to discuss the progress pupils are making.

Christine Fearon, the school’s head of pastoral care, describes the approach as intensive, with behaviour, attendance and key skills all closely monitored.

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

“We meet every week and carry out a series of 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, a classroom assistant at St Paul’s, feels his presence makes a difference to boys, with a male influence in the classroom helping those who may not have a male role model at home.

“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.

“I’ve been through the system so I know the need to work hard to get the most out of life.”

Feedback from parents of boys at St. Paul’s has also been hugely positive regarding the involvement of male relatives in any discussions about pupils with teachers and during parents’ meetings.

The ETI commendation of “outstanding” for the school compounds St.Paul’s reputation as one of the most highly successful all-inclusive secondary schools in the area.