Reformed college entry system ‘must be monitored’

Parents will be watching the rollout of a reformed college entry system very closely to ensure the desired effects of easing the long-running points race are achieved, education leaders have been told.

As final details were announced of the Central Applications Office (CAO) points that will correspond to new Leaving Certificate grades, National Parents’ Council Post Primary president Don Myers said it should bring positive changes. However, he said it must be monitored very closely for the first year or two to see how it works out.

The result of detailed planning by third-level colleges, in tandem with earlier work by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to change the number of Leaving Certificate grades from 14 to eight, it is intended to ease the pressure felt by students.

The problem is particularly pertinent to courses with high CAO points thresholds and associated competition for such degrees, forcing applicants to push for every possible mark to maximise their grades.

The knock-on effects of the system in schools, including a focus on rote learning and exam preparation instead of understanding a subject or critical thinking, have long been bemoaned.

Reformed college entry system ‘must be monitored’

Announcing the revised CAO points scale, Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan said it is a vital element of wider reforms to better support students moving from second level to higher education, including the new grading scheme she announced last April.

Mr Myers said it is essential that colleges live up to promises to replace the specialised courses that many students are forced to choose from before they finish school with broader-entry degrees that allow them decide where to focus in second or third year.

“The one thing we all want is opportunities for our children coming out of school and going to college and we wouldn’t want them restricted, or tied into a course or career that didn’t turn out to be what they thought it would be,” he said.

Third-level leaders are due to soon announce details of plans to address that issue, particularly in the universities, by offering less specialised CAO course options for Leaving Cert students.

Many of these general entry routes into science or engineering, for example, may accept much higher numbers than are currently registered on more specialist first-year programmes.

For this reason, the CAO scale will no longer award points that are multiples of five or 10 for every Leaving Cert grade. This should mean more varied totals of all students’ six best subjects scores, reducing the chances of big numbers of applicants for some courses having the same CAO points and facing a lottery for the last places.

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