Review for maths bonus policy


Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn is set to review the impact of the new Leaving Certificate bonus points system amid increasing concerns it could have a distorting impact on college entry points.

Career experts are predicting a dramatic increase in points for many courses when the CAO publishes its first round of college offers next Monday.

The bonus points system for maths agreed by higher education colleges last year – at the request of Mr Quinn – is due to be reviewed by academic councils in 2014. But Mr Quinn signalled yesterday that he would also review the scheme if it was seen to be distorting the entire CAO system.

The scramble for college places on many courses has intensified this year because of the strong results of so many students in higher level maths. The record number of students who passed the higher level paper (over 11,000) face into next week’s points race with an additional 25 CAO points.

The high number of students with bonus points could have a scattergun effect across the CAO system, pushing up points for many courses to record levels.

The bonus points system is designed to incentivise students to take higher level maths. But there has been some criticism over the fact that all students who pass higher maths benefit, rather than just those who intend to study science, maths and related subjects at third level.

Education sources say Mr Quinn and senior officials will review all aspects of the bonus points scheme when its impact on the CAO system can be assessed after the publication of next week’s first round of offers.

A move to confine the bonus points to those who proceed to study science and technology at third level is expected to be considered, pending fresh discussions with the universities. But any change will have to wait until the expiry of the next two-year Leaving Cert cycle in 2014 as students have already made subject choices based on the current system.

More than 32,000 places are available on Level 8 higher degree courses at third level this year. More than one-third of students seeking places will have the additional 25 CAO bonus points.

Education sources say Mr Quinn has ruled out an extension of the current bonus points system to subjects such as physics and chemistry, which are struggling to attract student numbers, because of the likely disruption to the CAO system.

However, Mr Quinn is expected to press ahead with new entry requirements for primary teachers. It is expected new entrants will require Leaving Cert higher level maths in addition to higher level Irish.

The Minister is also coming under pressure from business groups to change the marking system for foreign languages, giving more marks to the oral component. This year the introduction of the new 40 per cent mark for oral Irish – first announced by former education minister Mary Hanafin five years ago – helped boost student interest and reverse years of decline. Business leaders want to see a similar scheme rolled out for French, German and other continental languages, and greater focus on Chinese and Portuguese.

Mr Quinn said yesterday he would “wait until next Monday to see what the points system produced” before reaching any conclusions about this year’s results.

There is increasing concern that some students with high CAO point scores could struggle to gain places on much coveted courses in science and technology. The requirement for some of these courses in the main universities is set to break the 500-point barrier this year. Six years ago, students could study science in UCD with just 300 points.

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