The Institute of Guidance Councillors has welcomed plans to award “compensatory” CAO points to students who score below the existing 40 per cent pass grade in higher level papers.
The move is aimed at incentivising Leaving Cert students to take higher level papers and reduce pressure on young people for whom failure in a key subject can mean repeating the whole year.
“Anything that eases the strain for Leaving Cert students is worth it,” said institute president Betty McLaughlin.
“You would see students on the day of the exams dropping down to ordinary level just because of a bit of nerves. There is a huge fear factor in maths particularly.”
The measure is part of a package of reforms Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan is bringing before Cabinet on Tuesday.
The proposals, based on the recommendation of a departmental steering group, also include a reduction in the number of grading bands in the Leaving Cert from 14 to eight.
Under the planned new scale, scores between 90 per cent and 100 per cent would receive a grade H1 for higher papers and O1 for ordinary papers.
The other proposed bands are: 80-89 H2/O2; 70-79 H3/O3; 60-69 H4/O4; 50-59 H5/O5; 40-49 H6/O6; 30-39 H7/O7; and 0-29 H8/O8.
Currently, students who score below 40 per cent (a D grade) get no CAO points but under the new system a score in a higher level paper of 30-39 per cent (a H7) would receive points – on the basis that it equates academically at least to a pass grade at ordinary level.
The precise breakdown of CAO points for each of the new grades has yet to be announced. However, the Minister has signalled her intention to introduce the new regime for the Leaving Cert in 2017.
Ms McLaughlin said that while these initiatives were welcome they were meant to go “hand in glove” with the introduction of broader entry routes to college.
“Only two universities have moved on this: UCD and Maynooth,” she said, urging the other five universities to follow suit.
The Minister should set “guidelines” for them aimed at reducing the number of course codes listed on the CAO. Many of these were open to just a handful of students as “a marketing ploy”, adding to points inflation, Ms McLaughlin said.
Last year, the State’s seven universities pledged to ensure the number of undergraduate courses offered in 2015 was reduced to 2011 levels.
However, the CAO handbook for this year shows the number of level 8 honours bachelor degree courses is still 10 per cent above 2011 levels.
The Minister’s reform proposals have received a mixed response elsewhere.
Don Myers, president of the National Parents Council Post-Primary said reducing pressure on students was welcome but "there are probably downsides to this as well".
The reduction in grading bands could lead to more randomness in the allocation of college places, he pointed out. “We would like to see the analysis behind this.”
Of the plan to reduce the number of college courses, he asked: “Will that mean less choice?
“No matter what way you go about it, each college is restricted by the numbers it can accept. You don’t want a situation where more students are disappointed because they didn’t get the course they wanted.”
Criticism of the reforms were voiced by Independent Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell, who accused the Government of “lowering standards”.
“I don’t like the phrase ‘dumbing down’ but you are redefining the standard and the value system.”
She claimed the reforms, combined with the ongoing regime of bonus points for Maths, had an ideological motivation.
“We are capitulating to a banking system of education. If you are going to give bonus points then you are going to create a hierarchy of subjects.”
Labour party councillor Dermot Lacey welcomed the Minister's reforms but said he believed CAO points should be extended to recipients of the Gaisce awards.
“In many respects these awards reflect the real, social and personal achievements and abilities of the young person and should be eligible for consideration for third level college application similar to grades awarded in the more academic leaning Leaving Certificate,” he said.