CAO system could be changed by 2014


RADICAL CHANGES to the college admission system could be in place within three years after Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn backed a new report yesterday.

Mr Quinn praised the report which suggests places in third-level education could be allocated in a more targeted way matching students to courses which best suit their skills He said he had an “open mind” about changes to the CAO points system but he was also highly critical of present arrangements.

He also expressed concern about the readiness of new entrants into higher education.

“In short, my concern is that any benefits of future second-level curriculum reform will be undermined if we do not also address the direct question of the demands and pressures placed on both teachers and students by the current points system.”

Any change to the CAO entry system would need a two-year lead in because of the two-year Leaving Cert cycle. However, sources say change could be introduced by autumn 2014.

Mr Quinn said there had been criticism from within the higher education sector of the capacity of students from second level to meet the learning demands of higher education. These related to their capacity to think independently and creatively.

“The charge has been that the Leaving Certificate places performance pressures on students that promotes ‘rote learning’ and a narrow emphasis on the terminal examinations themselves at the expense of broader learning opportunities through the senior cycle.”

Mr Quinn said the issues involved in the debate on a new college-entry system do not lend themselves to simple solutions.

“They are complex and sensitive in nature. But we should be prepared to air them and discuss them. I want this to be a very public debate because any changes that might ultimately be proposed will need to enjoy public confidence and will need to be based on a degree of broad consensus.”

The new report from former UCD vice-president Prof Áine Hyland lists a range of options.

The use of a lottery system or a weighted lottery system to select students;

The introduction of new methods of assessment in the Leaving Cert – like projects or portfolios – to help ensure critical and fresh thinking are rewarded;

The use of interviews, aptitude tests and other options as an alternative to the Leaving Cert for college entry.

Prof Hyland’s paper will be discussed at a special conference this month. It is being organised by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and the Higher Education Authority.

Prof Hyland notes how students (advised by parents and teachers) will do everything to maximise CAO points.

“Some students base their subject choice for Leaving Cert on the perceived likelihood of getting a good grade, rather than on their aptitude for the subject or its relevance to their higher education course of choice.” She was critical of the “predictability” of the Leaving Cert and a growing grind culture which disadvantaged poorer students.