Maths fails on the rise but science improves

RISING failure rates in maths are offset by improved grades in science, according to the analysis of the results of more than 56,000 Junior Certificate exams out today.

Following concerns about worsening results in Leaving Certificate maths, educators and employers are likely to be unimpressed with grades in the subject for younger students.

Almost 47% of the 55,290 students who took a maths exam sat the ordinary level papers and 7.4% could not achieve a D grade or higher, up slightly on last year but the figure has risen each year since 2007 when there was a failure rate of 6.6%.

While there may be some consolation in the fact that the proportion taking higher level maths is also on the rise — from 43% in 2008 and slightly higher last year, to 45% — and fewer are opting for the foundation level course, the results strengthen the need for radical reform of how the subject is taught. The Project Maths course, designed to make it more practical and attractive to students, is being taught at all 730 second level schools since the start of this month, but it will be 2013 before the first exams of the new syllabus are taken by Junior Certificate students and a year earlier for the first nationwide sitting of it at Leaving Certificate.

Although the initial results of school leavers at 24 schools which piloted the programme over the last two years showed signs for confidence last month, the worrying trends will continue to draw focus for employer groups seeking higher standards among school leavers to ensure college graduates with the necessary mathematical skills to undertake degrees in key areas of future employment growth.

The proportion getting honours grades (A, B or C) is up slightly among the 24,840 who took higher level Junior Certificate maths to 77.7% but the proportion with As is down from almost 17% last year and in 2008 to 15.5%.

The class of 2010’s prospective third level course providers and future employers should be more pleased, however, with the fact that a record high 83.1% of higher level science students got honours grades and the numbers who failed the exam are just over half those last year.

It remains to be seen, however, if that success will be replicated by higher uptake of physics and chemistry in the Leaving Certificate in two or three years’ time. This year’s English grades also show slight improvements and more of this year’s students sat the higher level exam, with just over 77% of those 37,940 students achieving an A, B or C, and almost one-in-nine got an A in a trend very similar to recent years.

The proportion of students with honours in higher level Irish has passed the 80% mark and the proportion of this year’s 47,500 taking those papers is up to almost half, with just 4.3% choosing foundation level Irish.

However, figures were unavailable from the State Examinations Commission on the performance of 1,700 students at 54 schools who opted for the oral Irish exam for which marks increased this year from 25% to 40% of the overall grade.

The Irish Examiner revealed last month these numbers had risen from less than 300 students at 11 schools in 2004 and 725 students last year, most likely as a result of the increased marks, even though second level teacher unions forbid members from carrying out the assessments on students.

In other popular subjects, the proportion of students with honour grades is up on last year, except for slight drops in French and geography, ordinary level history and maths, and foundation level Irish.


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