Failure rate in Leaving Cert honours maths up for third year

Surprisingly strong results at ordinary level despite controversial Paper 1

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan tqueried  whether the ordinary level maths Paper 1 was too hard. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan tqueried whether the ordinary level maths Paper 1 was too hard. Photograph: Cyril Byrne


The proportion of students failing higher level mathematics in the Leaving Certificate has risen for the third year running, raising questions about quality of maths teaching.

Results published today show the uptake for higher level maths has levelled off after several years of growth, with 27 per cent of candidates taking the tougher paper, the same as last year. Of greater concern, however, is that the failure rate has risen to 5.2 per cent, up from 4.2 per cent last year, 3.3 per cent in 2013 and 2.3 per cent in 2012.

Some 57,929 Leaving Cert students will receive their results this morning, with college offers through the Central Applications Office (CAO) being issued next Monday.

Increasing the number of students taking higher level Maths has been a major goal of education policy.

The introduction of 25 CAO bonus points for a D grade or better in 2012 has led to a 30 per cent jump in those taking the higher level paper, and the numbers are set to rise further in 2017 when a new CAO system will allocate points to students who get 30-39 per cent – what is currently regarded as an E or “fail” – at higher level.

But this year’s results indicate that to improve the maths ability of Leaving Cert students there needs to be greater focus on teaching standards. Latest figures show there are only 5,443 qualified maths teachers on the Teaching Council register, compared with 8,015 qualified English teachers and 6,628 qualified History teachers.

A 2010 study by researchers at University of Limerick estimated that almost half of those teaching maths in secondary schools had no qualification in the subject, prompting the introduction of a training programme last year.

In ordinary level maths, there were surprisingly strong results, given the controversy over Paper 1 which left some in tears and prompted Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan to query whether it was too hard. The proportion of students getting an A, B or C rose from 66.7 per cent to 73.7 per cent, while the proportion who failed dropped from 8.6 per cent to 5.9 per cent.The results will further fuel debate on whether the roll-out of the Project Maths curriculum is leading to an increase or decrease in standards.

The number of Leaving Cert cadidates rose this year by 1.6 per cent. However, participation in the Leaving Cert Applied programme continues to decline.

One student got nine A1s this year, matching the achievement of Conor Gallagher of St Michael’s College, Dublin in 2014, while nine students got eight A1s.