More maths teachers for higher level students

Teachers upskill to meet rise in students opting for higher Leaving Cert maths

Department of Education wants 30 per cent of Leaving Cert students to take higher maths by 2020. Photograph: Alan Betson / THE IRISH TIMES

Department of Education wants 30 per cent of Leaving Cert students to take higher maths by 2020. Photograph: Alan Betson / THE IRISH TIMES

Tue, Mar 4, 2014, 01:00


The rapid rise in the numbers of students electing to sit higher level maths in the Leaving Cert is unlikely to outpace the availability of suitably trained staff to teach it. There had been concerns that a training programme set up to upskill teachers would not be able to keep up.

There has been a steady rise in the numbers of students taking higher maths since the Department of Education and Skills introduced a bonus points scheme for the subject in 2011. Students who receive a D grade or higher are given 25 extra points for achieving a pass. “We were worried about the system’s ability to cope with providing sufficient qualified teachers to meet the growing demand,” said Clive Byrne, the head of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals.

“The system was used to a given number of students taking higher maths and the system is working hard to upskill teachers to ensure they are able to teach the higher maths course,” he said yesterday.

Late switch
So far 54,813 students have applied to take the Leaving Cert this year and 17,181 of those are signed up to do higher maths, according to the State Examinations Commission. That is 31 per cent, although the commission said students often decide to take the ordinary level paper on the day of the examination and so the percentage drops.

In 2011, 10,435 took higher maths or 15.8 per cent of those sitting the Leaving. The department’s target is to have 30 per cent of Leaving Cert students taking higher maths by 2020.

Upskilling teachers
The department introduced a “high level diploma” for teachers electing to upskill to teaching higher maths. These “out of field” teachers include science graduates who elected to take extra training to teach the higher maths curriculum, said a departmental spokeswoman.

The two-year part-time diploma was offered outside normal teaching hours. There are 600 working within the programme. A third intake of 300 to 400 had signed up for next September, she said.

There were problems however related to having upskilled maths teachers where they were needed, said Gerard Craughwell, the president of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland.

A teacher might do the diploma but then find it was not required in their own school while there might be a need in another school.

“It has been helpful and was a good idea but it is still not certain it is having the desired effect,” he said yesterday.

The increased number of students taking the higher maths papers was welcomed but it was “too early to say” whether it is improving the standards of students entering higher education, said Prof Brian MacCraith, the president of Dublin City University and chair of the National Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) Education Review Group set up last year.