Getting the point of the points
The points system is to be retained for the purposes of college entry, but the final report of the Commission on the Points System recommends a number of changes to this system.
One of the more fundamental of these is a suggested re-alignment of the points rating for various grades. The anomaly whereby a higher-level A1 translates to 100 points while an A2 is awarded 90 points should be addressed by lowering the points given to an A1 to 95, according to the commission. The differential between all other grades above D3 on a higher-level paper is five points.
The new rating for an A1 would lower the maximum possible number of points for six subjects from 600 to 570. At ordinary level, the commission recommends an increase in all ordinary-level grades (other than an A1) by five points.
Changes may also be in store for repeat students if the Minister accepts the recommendations of the commission. Research undertaken for the commission by Dr David Tuohy of UCD's education department shows that "repeat students have an advantage of already fulfilling some of the basic requirements. This gives them leeway in the way they plan their second Leaving Certificate. "This is evidenced in the way they drop some subjects (notably core subjects such as English, maths and particularly Irish). Some also take up new subjects particularly home economics (social and scientific) and geography and they perform quite well in them."
To address this problem, the commission recommends that the points and the basic entry requirements, with the exception of Irish in NUI colleges, be attained in the same sitting of the Leaving Certificate. However, it recognises that in certain cases students may benefit from an extra year at school and so it was reluctant to recommend an absolute prohibition on re-sitting.
At the launch of the report, Hyland mentioned a candidate who had sat the Leaving Cert eight times in a bid to get a place in medicine. The commission recommends a disincentive to this type of performance in the form of a reduction of 10 per cent of the points score for a candidate's third sitting and for each subsequent sitting.
The variation in grading between different Leaving Certificate subjects and the consequent choice of subjects for reasons of points rather than interest also concerned the commission. So, for instance, students will choose geography or home economics (social and scientific) over physics and chemistry. To date, no systematic analysis has been undertaken to determine why the grading varies in different subjects.
Would it would be possible to introduce a standard pattern of grading across all subject areas? The commission recommends that "research be undertaken to identify the cause(s) of the variation in existing patterns of grade allocation across subjects and to consider possible strategies to ensure a more even distribution of grades."
The recommendation that bonus points for students sitting the Leaving Cert through Irish be dropped has already attracted a huge volume of angry reaction from the Irish-language lobby. The commission, which was chaired by Professor Aine Hyland of UCC, highlights the pertinent example whereby a student who achieved 530 points answering through English would get 575 with the same grades by answering through Irish - very much in the range of high-points courses such as medicine and pharmacy.
Bonus points are also awarded by UL for higher-level maths, and by DIT (in the case of it electrical/ electronic engineering degree) for maths and certain science subjects. The commission recommends that this practice be discontinued.
The Leaving Cert Vocational link modules have been a bone of contention for some time. This year, the universities and the DIT recognised the modules for points purposes for the first time but they decided to give a lower points rating than the other institutes of technology, which have awarded points for these modules since 1996. So, now, we have the situation where a student applying for university or the DIT will get 50 points for a distinction, 40 for a merit and 30 for a pass in the link modules. If he or she applies to an institute of technology than the corresponding points are 70 for a distinction, 50 for a merit and 30 for a pass.
The commission notes the "commitment from CHIU to keep the level of points to be awarded for the link modules under review" and it "recommends that the universities consider giving higher points to the link modules, as recommended by the Department of Education and Science, as soon as possible".
Students applying to colleges in the Republic on the basis of A-level results are treated differently by the various institutions. The commission points out that an A-level candidate with two As and one B would be allocated between 510 and 570 points, depending on the institution. It recommends that third-level institutions should "as far as is practicable, agree a common approach to the admission of applicants with qualifications from other member states, particularly applicants with A-level qualifications."