Bruton urges colleges to help take pressure out of exam points system

Education Minister Richard Bruton has urged more colleges to take pressure out of the points system by reducing the number of courses from which to choose for students.

One element of the college entry reforms kicking in this year is resulting in more Leaving Cert students taking Higher Level exams in most subjects. However, long-running proposals to have fewer but more general entry-level courses, particularly by universities, have only been adopted by some colleges.

Mr Bruton pushed for greater moves on that question as he congratulated students at Maryfield College in Dublin, just some of the 58,500 school leavers who got their Leaving Certificate results yesterday.

Ahead of next Monday’s first round college place offers from the Central Applications Office (CAO), the exam statistics showed a record 30% taking higher level maths, and sharp rises across most subjects in the proportions of students also taking honours papers.

The rises are being directly linked to the awarding of CAO points for the first time to some students getting under 40% in Higher Level, and the minister said the gamble paid off for the majority of those who chose to do those tougher exams.

Previously the corresponding E or lower grades were worth zero CAO points, but those who got the new H7 grade from this year for 30% to 40% in any higher level subject will get 37 points.

“Those who did take the gamble [at Maths], only 2% of them failed to get points and it’s been encouraging for those who took the gamble. We do want to see more people doing the Higher Level, taking on those challenges,” Mr Bruton said.

“We do also want to see a little bit less pressure on the points system, and the consolidation of the grades takes a little bit of the pressure out of it for students,” he said.

However, he said a big responsibility also lies with the colleges to help take the heat out of the points race.

“I want to see more colleges having common entry levels, rather than having some specialist courses with very high points and putting a lot of pressure on students to try and get those points to get in. That’s not healthy,” he said.

He singled out the good work of University of Limerick, Maynooth University and UCD, which have reduced the number of courses and made it easier to get in on a common entry. Some examples include the offering of just one engineering or general science CAO code, rather than more than a handful in the past, some of which commanded very high CAO points.

“That helps take a little bit of pressure out of the steam cooker that is the Leaving Cert and we all know it is a pressurised experience for people,” Mr Bruton said.

Maynooth University president Philip Nolan, who has previously criticised other colleges for not moving at the same pace, said the kind of broader entry routes which the minister referred to are an important element within the ongoing reforms of the transition from school to Third Level.

“Different institutions are moving at different speeds. UCD, UL and ourselves at Maynooth have made very significant changes, and these institutions are seeing improvements in application numbers,” he said.

The minister said the fact that thousands more students than last year had been encouraged by this year’s grade and points changes to move up to higher level disproves claims that the changes to the CAO system are ‘dumbing down’ the Leaving Certificate.

“You’re seeing more people choosing to do the more challenging papers ... and the exams haven’t been changed in any way,” he said.

He said Third Level colleges supported the move to reward students who took a risk, as they want more students who have experience of the kind of critical thinking skills and other challenges associated with Higher Level Leaving Certificate programmes.

Students who are considering appealing a Leaving Certificate grade must apply through their schools by next Tuesday if they want to view their marked script before deciding whether to make an appeal.

Parents and students with queries about Leaving Certificate grades, appeals, CAO points or other issues can have their queries answered by guidance counsellors on the National Parents Council-Post Primary helpline from 10am today and tomorrow at 1800 265 165.

The CAO Round 1 cut-off points for all 1,300 courses will appear in the Irish Examiner’s Choices for College supplement next Monday.

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