CAO points could climb if calculated grades model is used again

Some high-demand courses already running at full capacity, warns CAO chair

Points for third-level courses may climb above last year’s record levels if a system similar to calculated grades for the Leaving Cert is adopted, the CAO chair has said. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Points for third-level courses may climb above last year’s record levels if a system similar to calculated grades for the Leaving Cert is adopted, the CAO chair has said. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Points for third-level courses may climb above last year’s record levels if a system similar to calculated grades for the Leaving Certificate is adopted, the chair of the Central Applications Offices (CAO) has warned.

Prof Pól Ó Dochartaigh said a 9 per cent increase in applications this year is likely to put upward pressure on CAO points with almost 80,000 applicants for the first time. A decision to rerun the calculated grades system – which was linked to significant grade inflation last year – could add to the points race, he said.

Talks are continuing this week over plans for this year’s Leaving Cert this week, with plans to hold exams and a parallel “non-exam” option, which sources say this may be a modified version of the calculated grades model.

Meanwhile, secondary schools look set to reopen for almost 3,000 students in special-needs classes from February 22nd after the two main post-primary teachers’ unions, the ASTI and TUI, said they would support such a move, subject to public-health advice on Covid-19.

However, a deal to reopen secondary schools to about 60,000 Leaving Cert students in the final week of February is hanging in the balance after the ASTI said wider school reopening plans remained “inadequate”.

While the Government provided thousands of additional college places in a bid to ease points pressure last September, Prof Ó Dochartaigh warned there was less scope to do this in 2021 given that key areas such as medicine, dentistry and veterinary science are running at capacity.

“Universities and colleges pulled out all the stops, but there is unanimous belief that we cannot and should not be in this position again,” he said. “We need longer-term planning rather than a short-term fix if we are going to add thousands of extra places.”

Prof Ó Dochartaigh – who is registrar and deputy president of NUI Galway – also said it was time for a strategic discussion about what is the “desirable participation rate” for students in third level and in alternative options such as further education and apprenticeships.

Record points

An unpublished report compiled by the Government confirms CAO points rose to record levels last year. It shows points for 70 per cent of courses increased, while several broke through the 600-point mark for the first time.

A combination of factors may be placing upward pressure on points this year, including demographic growth, greater numbers of students opting to study in Ireland instead of abroad and additional mature students returning to education, Prof Ó Dochartaigh said.

He said the Government must decide whether last year’s grade inflation was a “blip” or becomes the new normal.

If it remains, he said, this would impact on applicants applying for courses based on their Leaving Cert results from prior to 2020, who did not benefit from grade inflation.

A spokeswoman for Minister for Further Education Simon Harris said he agreed with the professor’s call for greater planning and was keen to work closely with the sector on these issues, as well as on longer-term funding solutions.