Thursday, 1 August 2013

Books of Numbers

This week's Belfast Telegraph carried an interesting article attacking Irish-medium education. Unfortunately for the author, it's an article of the sort that says more about him, and his party, than about the subject under discussion (the guest writer, Danny Kinahan, is UUP education spokesman).

On the face of it, Mr. Kinahan has some telling arguments to deploy against IME:
"On the issue of quality education, figures show that, in 2012/13, 43.5% of pupils who attended the only Irish-medium post-primary school, Colaiste Feirste, achieved five GCSEs, including English and maths at grades A* to C. This is significantly below the overall Northern Ireland average of 60.1% for post-primaries."
For a moment, he had the Blether Region spooked.

That is, until it realised that West Belfast is the second-worst constituency for child poverty in the UK, and the second-worst constituency in Northern Ireland for GCSE results. Comparing the grades of Coláiste Feirste's students with those for the whole of Northern Ireland, which includes high-achieving areas such as South Belfast and North Down, is seriously misleading.

Then there's the fact that Coláiste Feirste is not selective. Yes, dear reader, the comparison is actually unfair on two counts, since the statistics for Northern Ireland include not only secondaries but grammars.

Most unfortunately of all for Mr. Kinahan, there's the small matter of the figure for Coláiste Feirste's GCSE results itself not being quite what it seems. If one removes the need for Maths and English (odd in an IME school) to be included in the GCSE results, the percentage of students with good GCSE passes was not 43.5% but 90% — more than double. Coláiste Feirste in fact had among the very best results for a non-selective school. That could be because the act of sending one's child to an IME school is itself selective, because of smaller class sizes or more dedicated teaching staff, or simply because bilingualism stimulates the mind.

Whatever the reason, it is clear that the school has absolutely nothing to worry about academically.

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