Higher failure rate in Ordinary level Maths cause for concern

Leaving Cert 2016 results will be closely analysed by students, politicians, teachers and industry figures

Mia Colleran (left) and Shona Ní Aodhagáin, Blackrock, celebrate getting their Leaving Certificate results, at Coláiste Íosagáin, Stillorgan, Co. Dublin, last year. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Mia Colleran (left) and Shona Ní Aodhagáin, Blackrock, celebrate getting their Leaving Certificate results, at Coláiste Íosagáin, Stillorgan, Co. Dublin, last year. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times


The long wait is over. Today, some 55,708 Leaving Cert students will find out how they have performed in a landmark exam which may well shape their future career.

The results will be closely watched not just by students, but by politicians, teachers and industry figures to see what they have to say about the quality of Irish school- leavers.

Maths is among the most keenly watched of all subjects given the changes made to the subject in recent years in terms of the impact of bonus points and a reformed syllabus.

This year’s results show that almost 28 per cent, or more than 15,000 students, opted to take the higher-level paper, a huge jump on the 16 per cent, or 9000 students, who sat the exam five years.

There have been concerns over rising failure rates in the higher level subject over recent years, which has not been a major surprise give the more mixed ability among a larger group of students.

This year’s results show that grades have stabilised, with failure rates falling slightly from 5 per cent to 4.6 per cent.

The proportion securing honours has remained broadly the same with 71 per cent of higher students securing an A, B or a C grade.

But there are alarm bells over failing rates in ordinary maths.

The numbers failing to secure a minimum of a grade D in the ordinary level maths paper is up from 5.8 to 9.2 per cent, or 3,000 students.

This means they are locked out of many third-level courses which require a pass in maths as a basic entry requirement.

In fact, the overall numbers failing the subject across all three maths levels – higher, ordinary and foundation levels – rose to 4,037 students, up from 6 to 9 per cent.


At higher level, about 700 students failed to pass their maths paper. They have the option of deferring and getting upgraded next year. That’s because a new grading system is due to come into force in the coming academic year.

Under these reforms, an E grade would no longer be regarded as a fail and would attract points equivalent to a C grade at ordinary level. This is important because a pass in maths is crucial for access to many third-level courses.

The results are likely to pose fresh questions about the the Project Maths reforms and the quality of maths tuition.

It is an issue which has been bubbling away in recent year in universities, who are increasingly offering catch-up maths classes for students who are struggling to cope.

Star performer

Other results show Irish was a star performer with some 86 per cent of students securing an honours grade in the higher paper (though this is, in fact, a drop of 3 per cent on 2015).

These high grades are likely to reflect the 40 per cent oral component in the subject.

By far the most disappointed higher-level students in 2016 will be among the 25,000 who took biology.

The honours rate dropped to 69 per cent – down 6 per cent on last year – and the failure rate increased to 9 per cent, up from 5 per cent.


The rates for securing an A, B or C at higher level also dropped significantly in Spanish (76 per cent, down 8 per cent) and German (71 per cent, down 4 per cent)

It is worth noting, however, that the numbers taking Spanish at higher level increased substantially from about 3,600 to 4,400.

The high results for many hands-on subjects is particularly striking – particularly those which have a form of practical assessment.

Home economics, art, engineering, construction studies, and technology all secured high honours grades at higher level of between 79 and 83 per cent.

Students sitting the exam in future years will doubtless eye these subjects up as ones where they can gain points.