Analysis: Will Ruairí Quinn’s plans to smooth the transition from second to third level actually work?

Scheme to take the heat out of the points race has merit if all partners can be brought along

Minister for Education  Ruairí Quinn: proposal holds promise. Photograph: Alan Betson

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn: proposal holds promise. Photograph: Alan Betson

Thu, Mar 28, 2013, 06:00

Everyone wants to see perspective returning to the Leaving Cert but it’s all-or- nothing where reform is concerned. The education system is a complex and highly interdependent animal.

Yesterday’s announcement by the Minister of a plan to smooth the transition from second to third level holds promise for two reasons. Firstly, many major stakeholders in the process, from the curriculum planners to the exam setters to the universities, have been involved in the plan’s formulation. Secondly, there are a number of steps to the plan which should, if realised, partially decouple the exam from the college admissions process.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and others will look at the practice of the exam content lottery, which sees students gambling their academic future on the appearance of a particular poet or theorem. This has become a national sport in recent years and it’s very unfair on students.

The second strand is a move to trim the grading bands. Students should no longer have to agonise over a B2 or a B1, poring over exam marking schemes while their teachers try to coach them through narrow bands to points nirvana.

The most ambitious strand is a plan to reduce the number of Level 8 third-level courses – students currently have almost 1,000 to choose from. Many are little more than lightly rebranded versions of the main discipline. However, because of their small intake, the points are driven up, creating not just panic among students but also generating the allure of a high points option.

The hope is that all the stakeholders in this process, many of whom were not represented at yesterday’s launch, will get on board.