Open Nights 2017
Mr Donaldson, the College Principal, began by expressing his delight in welcoming a packed Assembly Hall of parents and pupils to Cullybackey College’s Open Night. He acknowledged that within the Ballymena area parents are fortunate to have so many good schools, each with their own particular strengths and characteristics and looked forward to the opportunity to give them an insight into what makes him so proud of the College. Mr Donaldson indicated to parents that much of the information they might wish to know could be found in the College Prospectus (including a DVD offering an insight into a day in the life of a Year 8 pupil) which they all received, and that he simply wanted to take a few minutes to highlight 4 of the key strengths of Cullybackey College and introduce the visitors to a number of Cullybackey College pupils.
Firstly Mr Donaldson expressed his delight at the GCSE and A-Level results achieved by the pupils in August. Year 12 pupils achieved the highest 5 or more A*-C passes at GCSE level in the recent history of the College. The proportion of students achieving 5 or more GCSE passes at grades A* to C stands at a fantastic 68%. This reflects a huge rise of 18% compared with the previous year’s results and is the highest pass rate in the recent history of the College. In addition the College had the highest A-level achievement in 5 years with the proportion of students achieving 2 or more A-Levels at grades A* to E standing at 98%. This year 78% of all entries gained a grade C or above – this is the highest performance rate in the history of the school. The proportion of students achieving 3 or more A-Levels at A* to C was 45% - a significant improvement of 8% on the previous academic year. He indicated that this on-going success was achieved through a combination of real commitment and hard work on the part of the teachers, the effort of the pupils and the support and encouragement of home.
Secondly Mr Donaldson suggested that Cullybackey College is an ideal sized school in that it is not so large in size that it becomes impersonal and hard to fit in and yet not so small that it is limited in terms of the curriculum and extra-curricular opportunities available to its young people. He stated, ‘As a school of just under 700, comprising a mixture of pupils from the village itself, the wider, rural community as well as the town, we feel we are ideally placed to really get to know your child – and knowing them well allows us to support them more effectively.’ He continued, ‘When you walk around any school you get a feel for the atmosphere. One of the strengths of Cullybackey College is its friendly and supportive atmosphere and I hope you get a sense of that tonight. As a staff, both teaching and non-teaching, we take great pride in this. There is a well-developed induction programme for all Year 8 pupils and pastoral support, which was recently deemed outstanding by the Inspectorate, to ensure children settle in quickly and we will endeavour to work in partnership with you, the parents, to make this the case.’
Mr Donaldson stated that every child who comes to Cullybackey College has a right to the highest possible standard of teaching and support. In turn every child who comes to Cullybackey College accepts their responsibility for contributing positively to the College community by displaying the highest standards of behaviour to enable them to learn effectively. Every child also accepts responsibility for doing their best. He continued, ‘As I am always keen to point out, success is about doing your best, not always being the best – and doing your best is what we expect from all our pupils.’
Thirdly Mr Donaldson made reference to Sixth Form. The current Sixth Form is the largest in the history of the College. There is an expanding curriculum offer at both A-Level and GCSE. The College recently developed a Sixth Form Learning Area to support the education of its Sixth Form pupils. This provides them with an excellent supervised study area with computer access catering for 120 pupils. Mr Donaldson welcomed it as it reflects the fact that Cullybackey College is expanding as a school.
The fourth and final point was a recognition that meeting the needs of all its pupils is at the heart of what the College is all about. Children are streamed when they begin Year 8. This means placing them in a class with pupils of similar ability which aids learning. They are tested regularly. Four reports are sent home each year to ensure that parents are kept completely up to date with their child’s progress. There is also the opportunity to meet individual subject teachers for a consultation evening. In addition Mr Donaldson made reference to the high standard of Special Needs provision on offer within the College and acknowledged that pupils with particular learning difficulties are given extra support as appropriate and external agencies are used when necessary.
Mr Donaldson continued, ‘Ensuring we know your child academically helps us to support them effectively during their time with us and this, coupled with the support of home and a lot of hard work and effort on the part of the pupil, remains the recipe for success. Ultimately after Year 12 our goal is to make sure your child follows the pathway best suited to them whether A-Level; NRC; or employment. One is not better than the other – it’s simply about us guaranteeing that we help your child to follow the pathway after Cullybackey College that will give them the best opportunity for employment in an area best suited to their particular strengths and abilities.’
This year the College again offered a guided tour with each group provided with two Sixth Form guides to assist them. This proved hugely successful with the colourful, numbered signs ensuring no one got lost! Parents commented on the enthusiasm and interest of the staff; the friendliness of the pupils; the fact that Departments sought to provide activities which engaged the young people; the general smoothness of the tour; the maturity of the Sixth Form tour guides; and the warm atmosphere. The evening concluded with a visit to the Cafeteria for tea, coffee and tray bakes, a fitting way to end what had been a hugely enjoyable evening. Any parent who wishes to have a copy of the new College Prospectus or who was unable to attend and would like an opportunity to visit should contact the school office on 02825880771.