Belfast Royal Academy , the oldest school in the city, has a new Principal.
The school has about 1,400 pupils in the grammar school, about 196 of whom are entitled to free school meals.
Its A level performance has been deteriorating over the last four years. Department statistics show that the percentage of pupils achieving three or more A levels at grades A* -C fell from 78% in 2012/13 through 70%-73%-71% in subsequent years.
This compares [although those who know more about these things, say ‘not really’] with the top performing secondary schools in Northern Ireland which achieve in the upper 80% or in some cases over 90%.
In its 2012 Annual Report, mention is made of sending three pupils to the ancient universities. Thereafter , there is sparse mention of more than one such achievement, annually. The Methodist College sent 8 pupils to OxBridge in 2013/14.
Standards have clearly fallen within the school. This is always, ultimately , the responsibility of the Board of Governors.
The Board has appointed Mrs Hilary Woods as Principal. She was , for three years, Principal of Antrim Grammar School. During that relatively short tenure , for a Head, she was also [for some period] Assistant Principal of Craigavon Senior High School.
Antrim Grammar’s performance in the comparative A level statistics is 77%-76%-77%-76%. It is not 80% as claimed by the school’s website. [Read the very small print]
Mrs Woods was Head of a school half the size of BRA, with about 52 pupils on free school meals and a budget of £3 million, largely controlled by the Education Authority. She had about 46 teachers.
She now takes command of a budget of over £6 million and 80 staff.
She is the first external appointment to the position of Principal since 1943. She faces a daunting task, to restore and indeed to improve academic standards.
As the Warden said to me “a new chapter”.
Let’s hope so.