Most existing convent schools were not in a position to avail of the system at first because an agricultural depression between 1878 and 1885 drastically reduced the number of pupils in convent boarding schools.
One of the problems facing some girls's schools, especially in Ulster, was that of touting for clever pupils. Miss McKillip's Ladies' Collegiate School, Derry (set up in 1877) was particularly associated with this practice. When the Intermediate Examination results were published in September she wrote to the parents of Junior or Middle Grade Exhibitioners offering to take these girls as boarders for very low fees on condition that the girls entered for the Intermediate examinations. This plan worked so well that soon she had many promising pupils from all over Ireland and obtained brilliant results. The Central Association of Irish Schoolmistresses (CAISM) deplored this practice which they considered very unfair to small girls' schools.
One ex-pupil of Miss McKillip's who disagreed with CAISM was Mrs Stephenson. Born in 1890 she started off in a small school (Miss Frazer's School, Lurgan) and took Junior Grade, gaining first place in Ireland in Latin. The following year she sat for Middle Grade but crashed badly due to poor Mathematics. Miss McKillip then offered her a place in the school which was gratefully accepted. Mrs Stephenson considered Miss McKillip's actions were justified on the grounds that she gave opportunities to girls in small country schools who might never otherwise get the opportunity to go any further in their studies. The teaching given was of the highest quality, especially in Mathematics which was taken by Miss Sarah McKillip, a most brilliant teacher. Mrs Stephenson believed that it was as a result of Miss MacKillip's Mathematics teaching that she came third in Ireland in Algebra in Senior Grade Intermediate.
The Intermediate Board encountered financial problems. The fact that only £32,500 per annum was allocated under the Act, and that it was not increased when girls were included, explains some of the opposition to the scheme. As more and more students entered for the examinations, the Board got into serious financial difficulties. In 1882 there was a drastic reduction of 50% in the prizes and results fees, which had an immediate effect on girls' schools because of the smaller number of subjects taken by them. By 1883 there were only 24 convent schools in the Results Lists compared with 42 in 1881.