CAO Q&A: Does my disabled status mean I’m guaranteed a college place?

Brian Mooney: No one is automatically eligible, even if they secure ‘Hear’ or ‘Dare’ status

What is a fail? This question exercised many callers.

What is a fail? This question exercised many callers.


A topic exercising the minds of many callers to The Irish Times exam helpdesk is the criteria surrounding the awarding of colleges places for those with disabilities or from poorer backgrounds.

These alternative admission routes which offer places on reduced points are known the Dare (Disability Access Route to Education) and Hear (Higher Education Access Route) schemes.

Parents often think that once their son or daughter secures Hear or Dare status they are automatically eligible to receive an offer of a place. This is not the case. Every department in every third-level institution has discretion on how many places they wish to allocate. Some may allocate two or three places, some a larger number.

The second element of uncertainty surrounds how many successful applicants end up on the waiting list for each course.

If, for example, there are 40 successful Hear applicants on a list for four places, then 36 students will be disappointed.

The third element of uncertainty surrounds the criteria for deciding among the successful applicants who gets the places.

Each college, faculty or programme may operate differently. Some may award places based solely on the points scores of those on each list. Others may prioritise those with sensory disabilities. Some may also prioritise students who secure both Dare and Hear status.

The problem for those who contacted our helpdesk is the lack of transparency or agreed national criteria as to how the system operates.

Given the huge amount of effort required to process each application both on the part of families and schools, we need to introduce a level of transparency into the process so applicants can see both the level of Hear and Dare provision per course and the criteria on which places are offered.

Accounting exam

A student who was disappointed with their accounting grade, because they were unable to tackle question nine in the exam in June, contacted our helpdesk to ask whether they had a valid case to sue their school for damages on the basis that the teacher did not cover the topic in class given that it had not appeared on an exam paper in many years?

I’m no legal expert – but it would be fascinating to see how a court would interpret a teacher’s obligation to cover every element of a published curriculum, or to use their professional judgement to use the teaching time at their disposal, to prepare their students for their Leaving Cert.

Giving parents bad news

One student sought advise as to how to communicate to their parents that they had not done as well as they expected.

It’s a shame that students should worry about this on top of everything else. Parents need to be conscious to communicate to their sons and daughters that any performance in an exam or success or otherwise in securing a college offer in no way undermines their unconditional love and support for them, and that as a family they will deal with the fallout from all outcomes.

This statement may seem self-evident, but given our caller’s anxiety it might be useful if parents over the weekend, prior to the CAO offers on Monday, ensure that their children understand that they are loved unconditionally.

What is a fail?

This question exercised many callers. It is driven by the H7 grade at higher level. Many parents struggle to get their minds around the fact that somebody securing 30-40 per cent is a higher paper has not failed the subject. The answer is that many courses require a student to secure 40 per cent on an ordinary paper to gain entry to that programme. Securing a H7 at higher level is now deemed to have met this criterion.

Special maths exam

IT Sligo has joined the the list of higher education institutions offering a special maths exam to any student who has failed to meet a maths entry requirement for a course they have already applied for.

The exam will take place on Thursday 22 August 2018 at 9.30am and is free of charge.

* The Irish Times helpdesk will operate at on weekdays from 9am over the period from the release of the Leaving Cert results until after the CAO offers are released.

This column will resume on Tuesday, following the release of CAO offers on Monday 20th August.