Female students seem to be getting more cautious about taking honours Leaving Certificate maths after an initial spike when bonus college entry points were introduced.
Although male students have always been significantly more likely than female students to sit the subject at higher level, the gap narrowed when 25 extra Central Applications Office (CAO) points were offered in 2012 as an incentive to increase uptake.
In 2011, 14.5% of girls and 17.2% of boys doing maths took higher level papers, but a year later 21% and 23%, respectively, did so. Although more male and female students have taken honours maths every year since, the gender gap is opening again.
Latest State Examinations Commission (SEC) data show 26% of girls got results for higher level maths on Wednesday — the same as 2014. There was a very slight increase for male candidates, however, with 28.9% doing so compared to 28.7% in 2014.
Male students are now only 11% more likely to do the exam at honours level, compared to a 19% gap in 2011. The difference was as low as 9.5% in 2012 and 10% last year, with a temporary spike to 11.6% in 2013.
Bonus points have come under scrutiny this week over concerns that some students may be under pressure to attempt higher level maths to keep up in the points race for college. The SEC data show 5% of male honours maths students failed, leaving them ineligible for hundreds of third-level courses, but the figure is 5.5% among the female candidates.
The increase in the fail rate for a third successive year, from 2.3% in 2012 to 5.2% this year, has been played down by Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan. She said it was always factored into the scheme of awarding bonus points that more students might not pass, but the proportion who fail is much lower than in many science subjects.
National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals director Clive Byrne said the rising numbers failing higher level maths are a reflection of students chasing bonus points, demonstrating the points system’s disproportionate impact on second-level education. However, employers’ group Ibec said the 70% who got an honours grade (A, B, or C) are evidence that more students are capable of studying higher level maths.
Many colleges will run second-chance exams over the next two weeks for students who have the CAO points but did not meet the minimum Leaving Certificate grade in maths for certain courses, such as engineering or related degrees.
Almost 46,700 students who got their results on Wednesday are among 79,000 hoping for college places through the CAO, which will make offers to fill most courses next Monday.
CAO Round 1 points for all 1,400 courses will appear in the 16-page Choices for College supplement with Monday’s Irish Examiner.
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