TES Schools Awards 2015 – profile of St Patrick's High School

Friday 5 Jun 2015

Pat McGuckian is Principal at St Patrick's High School in Keady, County Armagh – one of eight schools shortlisted for the Secondary School of the Year category that we're supporting at this year's TES Awards. In the seventh in our series of stories profiling the nominees, Pat tells us about the school's mission - "Excellence, Every Day for Every Child" - and how in 2011 they abandoned the banding of pupils and embraced mixed ability groupings…

St Patrick's High School is a co-educational, all ability Catholic school situated in the town of Keady in rural County Armagh with a current enrolment of 1040 pupils. Our Mission is "Excellence, Every Day for Every Child". 

We have created a learning community with nine partner primary schools and together we offer a wrap-around high quality education for pupils from 3-19 years. We are unique in the largely selective education system in Northern Ireland, as almost 100% of pupils transfer to us from these partner schools without the need for a test. We have therefore had the opportunity to create a seamless transition from primary to post-primary education. 

We aim to meet the needs of all pupils including high academic achievers and children with moderate learning difficulties. In 2011 we abandoned the banding of pupils and embraced mixed ability groupings. We are extremely proud of our results, which place us significantly above comparable schools at KS4 and at A-level.

However, we believe that education is not merely about examination results. As the Irish poet WB Yeats said "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire". We try to create conditions for our young people's talents to be discovered and to flourish, whether this is in the traditional world of academic study, on the stage, the sport's field or in using their gifts in the service of others.

One of the most important issues for us is striving to maintain standards year-on-year. My goal is to focus on making our classroom practice not merely outstanding, but world-class and sector-leading. I want it to be said that St Patrick's grows inspirational teachers. Like most schools though, we are going to strive for this while facing a period of unprecedented financial constraint. 

However, where there is a will there is a way! Our focus is now on creating action research groups in school, led by teacher need and offering teachers the opportunity to work collaboratively to improve practice and solve professional problems.

The thing of which I am most proud is making our Mission "Excellence every day for every child" a lived reality. We are a truly inclusive school, where all pupils learn alongside each other, with the more able helping those who may find aspects of learning more difficult.

We are thrilled to be shortlisted for the Secondary School of the Year award. The TES is an extremely well respected publication and we were humbled at the thought! And...we get to buy new outfits and go to London!

It is a boost for staff and pupils who have worked really hard to achieve the success we are enjoying. We have moved from a position in 2011 where 51% of our pupils achieved 5 GCSEs including English and maths and 57% achieved 3 A Levels at A*-C, to the outcomes in 2014 when 80% of our pupils achieved 5 GCSEs including English and maths and 70% achieved 3 A Levels at A*-C.

Winning the award would send a clear message to all schools (especially in Northern Ireland) about the dangers of labelling children. It would endorse our attempts to release human talent and allow it to flourish, not limit it through inaccurate labelling. The efforts of all staff working collaboratively to improve outcomes for all pupils have been inspirational and it would be lovely for these to be recognised publicly.

Since my appointment in 2011, these are some of the things we have done:

  • put in place a thorough process of self-evaluation leading to improved classroom practice
  • tracked all pupils in danger of not achieving our benchmark of 5 GCSEs including English and maths 
  • invested in personnel in the form of learning mentors and specialist teachers
  • replaced Year 12 study leave with structured, intense periods of revision for those in most need
If we win, we will:
  • celebrate
  • continue our Mission
  • embark on publicising further our unique approach in Northern Ireland in order to improve life chances for all pupils!