Leaving Cert grading system not a ‘dumbing down’, says Bruton

Minister says this year's changes reward students who take chance to do higher level

Minister for Education Richard Bruton has insisted the new Leaving Cert grading system does not represent a "dumbing down" of the exam.

Under a new grading system designed to reduce pressure on students at exam time, candidates at higher level who score between 30 and 39 per cent – previously known as an E grade – are eligible for CAO points.

“The system is rewarding people who take the chance to do a higher level course,” Mr Bruton said.

"The changes had been approved by higher education institutions he said as the aim was to expose students to more challenging demands such as problem solving. This was in line with best international practice," he told RTÉ's Morning Ireland.


In response to the changes, the number of students opting for higher level papers across all subjects has climbed to a new high, while failure rates at higher level have dropped dramatically.

However, there is evidence of significant numbers struggling at ordinary level with failure rates in many ordinary papers increasing significantly.

Mr Bruton said that if you take the top performing lower level students and get them to take a higher level paper, “you are taking the cream out of that selection.”

The new marking system was in transition, he said. It was by no means perfect, he said, but it was necessary as Irish students traditionally do not do well with analytical skills.

Earlier, in a statement, Mr Bruton said that even if disappointed with their results today, students should take the time to examine other options.

“For the class of 2017 there are more pathways than ever before to help you to achieve your potential. There is a wide range of opportunities in the further education and training sector, including traineeships and apprenticeships, as well as in the third level sector,” he said.

Mr Bruton said the apprenticeship and traineeship system is being expanded significantly so that it will cover all major economic sectors, as well as doubling enrolments to 14,000 by 2020.

Employers’ group Ibec, meanwhile, has welcomed the continued increase in the number of Leaving Cert students taking higher level maths.

However, it warned that improvements in teaching quality are needed to deliver sustained improvements.

Claire McGee, Ibec’s senior executive for innovation and education policy, said: “The proportion of students taking the higher level maths paper has almost doubled since the introduction of bonus points in 2012 and is a clear vindication of that decision. Perhaps it is now time to consider incentivising other key subjects for the economy in a similar way.”

While the introduction of the new grading system has encouraged students with the required aptitude to take the higher level paper, a focus on teaching quality was needed to these improvements to be sustained.

"The future of high-technology companies in Ireland will depend on sufficient numbers of suitably qualified graduates. If students want to pursue these disciplines, they must have a strong foundation in mathematics at secondary school," she said.