CAO points 'highly likely' to hit last year’s record high

Many college places set to be awarded on basis of random selection, records show

Points requirements for college courses are ‘highly likely’ to reach last year’s record levels again with many places awarded on the basis of random selection, according to internal Government records. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Points requirements for college courses are ‘highly likely’ to reach last year’s record levels again with many places awarded on the basis of random selection, according to internal Government records. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

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Points requirements for college courses are “highly likely” to reach last year’s record levels again with many places awarded on the basis of random selection, according to internal Government records.

Officials believe the decision to keep Leaving Cert students’ grades “no lower” than last year, combined with high numbers of college applicants, will lead to a similar pattern later this year, according to records released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Last year saw a sharp increase in the use of random selection – essentially a lottery system – to award high-demand college places in courses such as medicine, health sciences, commerce and engineering.

Just over 40 per cent of college courses which required 550 points or more used random selection last year. Some students who received the maximum points possible – 625 – ended up losing out on their first-choice college places last year after places were awarded this way.

Government sources say Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris is planning to seek Cabinet approval shortly for an additional 1,000 college places this year which will be targeted in areas such as medicine, healthcare, social care, engineering and courses relating to climate change.

The aim is that this will ease some of the points pressure and reduce the use of random selection.

Targeted areas

A spokeswoman for Mr Harris said: “The Minister will bring proposals to Government in mid-May to increase the number of places in higher education. These places will be targeted at areas of significant demand, but also where there are skills shortages.”

A similar decision last year to create thousands of extra college places resulted in a sharp drop in the number of school-leavers choosing further education and training courses. However, Government sources say the targeted nature of this year’s additional places aims to lessen this impact.

CAO points for courses rose to record levels last year due to a combination of strong grades and high numbers of applications. But the creation of additional places meant the proportion of applicants who received offers, overall, remained broadly steady.

Earlier this year Minister for Education Norma Foley’s announced that the grade profile for this year’s Leaving Cert results will be “no lower” than last year.

It follows on the back of two years of higher grades during the pandemic due to teachers’ predicted grades and light-touch moderation by exam authorities.

This translated into significantly higher points CAO points, with the median points achieved rising from 350 in 2019 to 390 in 2020, to 420 in 2021.

Separately, the Oireachtas education committee has recommended examining the feasibility of “decoupling” the CAO from the Leaving Cert as an “urgent priority”.

In a new report on Leaving Cert reform, it says all senior-cycle students should have the option of combining subjects in the traditional Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Applied so students can study both academic and vocational subjects.

“There is an urgent need to redress the imbalance between academic subjects and vocational options so that both are considered equal,” it states.

It also calls for the Leaving Cert to be renamed as the Senior Cert and for exams to completed on computers.

Will CAO points climb to last year’s record high? – page 4