Students unaware of third-level restrictions under the LCA programme

HUNDREDS of teenagers could be missing out on the chance of a higher education each year because they are not told the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme they take restricts their access to college.

A study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) on experiences of the LCA was largely positive about its role in helping to keep potential early school leavers from dropping out of education.

Around 3,400 people completed the alternative to the traditional exam- based Leaving Certificate this year, with credits awarded for completion of various modules over the course’s two-year duration.

The ESRI found that one-in-10 former LCA students it interviewed had regretted taking the programme because of its slow pace of instruction, limited curriculum and restrictions in access to third-level colleges. While students who complete it can go on to further education courses or apprenticeships, their qualifications are not recognised for entry to courses through the Central Applications Office (CAO) points system.

Three women in their early 20s who took part in the research felt they were misdirected into taking LCA and said there was a lack of communication between schools and pupils about the content of the course and its limitations in accessing third level places.

Jackie, a 22-year-old now working at home, felt the details should have been better explained.

“I think they should have just took me aside and said ‘look, this is the way it is, if you want to go on to college and get a good job you should do a straight Leaving’,” she said.

Another former LCA student said she wanted to work with people with special needs or old people but was put off when she realised she would have to go back to do the traditional Leaving Certificate to get into college.

While the way students in different schools enter the LCA programme varies significantly, the ESRI researchers said issues around lack of transparency and guidance could be addressed so students were clearly informed of the differences between it and the traditional Leaving Certificate.

“In particular, students should be made aware of the potential limitations of the LCA qualification in accessing certain types of post-school education and employment,” wrote authors Joanne Banks, Delma Byrne, Selina McCoy and Emer Smyth.

They found that the student-centred learning and interactive teaching methods adopted in the LCA were positive aspects from which other programmes for junior cycle and Leaving Certificate students could benefit, as they improved students’ confidence and self-esteem. There was also, however, a need to improve integration between LCA students and others, as many felt excluded from the main student body.

Most students who opted for the LCA had negative academic and school experiences up to the Junior Certificate, many had significant behavioural problems, while many also had a range of special educational needs.

While many of those interviewed, who left school between 2001 and 2005, had got work in the construction or service sectors, the authors warned that those leaving school with the LCA today are likely to be more vulnerable to unemployment in the current economic climate.


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