Languages gain student popularity in Leaving Cert

Languages are gaining popularity with Leaving Certificate students, judging by provisional numbers for this year’s exams.

While French remains by far the most commonly studied language after English and Irish, with more than 27,000 due to sit French exams in June, the rise of 2% on last year is less than the overall 4% growth in Leaving Certificate candidates. However, the 5,470 entered for Spanish in 2014 is 9% higher than a year ago and up by more than 1,000 in just two years.

German also remains popular, with numbers up more than 3% on a year ago to 7,010 after a slight dip in uptake between 2012 and 2013.

History candidates are up slightly, by 2.5% to almost 12,500, but State Examinations Commission figures show geography numbers are declining for a second year running.

Although it remains the third most popular non-core subject, after biology and French, numbers sitting geography fell from 27,306 to 25,734 between 2011 and 2012, and to less than 25,300 last summer. Based on trends of recent years, that may fall to around 25,000 in June, as provisional entries at this stage are down around 250 on this time a year ago.

The contrasting fortunes of geography and history may offer comfort to those involved in the strong public campaign for history to be a core subject in the Junior Cycle Student Award which Education Minister Ruairi Quinn proposes will replace the Junior Certificate.

Although it is not currently set by the Department of Education as a compulsory subject from first year in half the country’s second-level schools, it is still taken by 90% of students for Junior Certificate.

However, history teachers and other campaigners fear making it an optional subject in all schools will see it widely dropped as a core subject.

The short courses for which it might be offered instead are a key element of the junior cycle reform plans, which are opposed by teacher unions. A ballot of 27,000 Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland and Teachers’ Union of Ireland members is ongoing.

Their leaders have organised a lunchtime school gate protest tomorrow to raise awareness of their concerns, especially over Mr Quinn’s proposal that students be assessed by their own teachers.

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