Magherafelt’s St Mary’s Grammar School named top NI secondary school of the year

St Mary's Grammar School, Magherafelt, has today been named The Sunday Times Secondary School of the Year in Northern Ireland.

The top ten performing schools in Northern Ireland are revealed in Parent Power, The Sunday Times Schools Guide 2023, published online at, and in a supplement in The Sunday Times this weekend.

The 30th edition of Parent Power identifies the highest-achieving schools in the UK. It is the definitive guide to secondary schools using the first post-pandemic set of results for state and independent schools since Covid-19 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Paul McClean, the new principal of St Mary's Grammar School, although “delighted” with the accolade, says that grades are not his number one goal.

St Mary's Grammar School in Magherafelt has been named top secondary school in Northern Ireland.

“More important than any set of grades or access to university is leaving St Mary’s with a value system that sets pupils up for life,” he says.

“It is about respect for others and respect for themselves. There are so many challenges and competing priorities in young peoples’ lives that the safety and support of parents and schools working closely together is a necessary element to each pupil reaching their potential.”

The strength of relationships between parents, pupils and teachers and the wider community is key to the school’s success. No more so than when they gather on the sidelines to cheer on sports teams.

The quality of Northern Irish grammar schools shines through yet again in the national rankings, with seven schools in the top 50.

Rainey Endowed Magherafelt also finished in the top ten secondary schools in Northern Ireland.

But strong performance based on selection is not without controversy. Last month a research paper by academics from Queen’s University Belfast said Northern Ireland’s education system perpetuated divisions in wider society.

Helen Davies, editor of The Sunday Times Parent Power guide, says: “These have been a challenging few years for teachers, pupils and their parents, and the success of many in our league table is testament to the stamina and support shown by all concerned”.

Top Secondary Schools in Northern Ireland:

1 St Mary's Grammar School, Magherafelt

2 Aquinas Diocesan Grammar School, Belfast

3 Our Lady and St Patrick's College, Knock

4 Strathearn School Belfast

5 Friends' School Lisburn

6 St Dominic's School Belfast

7 Lumen Christi College Derry

8 Sullivan Upper School Holywood

9 Rainey Endowed School, Magherafelt

10 Banbridge Academy

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