Leaving Cert exams in eastern European languages on rise

726 students enter for the Polish exam – the most popular non-curricular subject

The number of students sitting Leaving Cert exams in eastern European languages is continuing to rise, new figures show.

The State Examinations Commission allows for students to sit papers in so-called non-curricular languages where there is demand from pupils.

A total of 726 students have entered for the Polish exam, which is by far the most popular of the non-curricular subjects. It is followed by Lithuanian (237) and Romanian (208).

The rising numbers reflect an increase in migrant parents who moved here over the past decade and a half.


In all, more than 1,500 candidates have entered for non-curricular languages, including include Dutch, Portuguese, Latvian, Hungarian, Czech, Slovakian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Finnish, Danish and Swedish.

A Leaving Cert exam in Slovenian is also due to take place this year for the first time.

Students may opt to be examined in these subjects if they meet certain criteria which include being from an EU member state, speaking the language in which they opt to be examined in as a mother tongue and taking Leaving Certificate English.

Figures compiled by the commission also show some striking gender imbalances across key subjects. So-called Stem subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths – are still heavily male-dominated, though there are signs of more females sitting some of these exams.

Stem subjects

In higher-level maths, for example, there is almost a 50:50 split between males and females, while a majority of those sitting chemistry ( 55 per cent) and biology (65 per cent) are female

In physics, however, some 84 per cent of candidates are male, while in engineering the number rises to 94 per cent.

This is mixed news for policymakers, who have placed a major effort on trying to attract more girls to Stem subjects.

Women are still much more likely to sit foreign languages with girls accounting for significant majorities of candidates in French, German and Spanish exams.

Other subjects where males are more heavily represented include applied maths, agricultural science, design and economics.

The number of pupils sitting the Junior Cert exams, meanwhile, has climbed significantly.

Overall, more than 121,470 candidates have entered the Junior and Leaving Cert exams. The numbers sitting the Leaving Cert and the Leaving Cert Applied are broadly similar to last year.

However, there are some 62,076 Junior Cert candidates, the highest for more than a decade. These numbers, which reflect the growing young population, are up almost 1,500 from last year.

These numbers are set to continue to climb until 2025, as a baby boom of recent years pushes through primary and into second level.

Within the next five years alone, some 43,000 second-level places will be needed.

Some €4 billion is set to be invested in the education sector between now and 2021 in more than 300 major school-building projects, including extensions and new schools, to keep pace with demand.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent