More is more as number of students taking Irish and science increase

Leaving Cert results show more students going for higher level subjects

Celebrate: around 88.8 per cent of students who took higher level Irish got a C or higher.  Photograph: Getty Images

Celebrate: around 88.8 per cent of students who took higher level Irish got a C or higher. Photograph: Getty Images

 

During her term as minister for education, Mary Hanafin increased the percentage grade for the oral component of Irish to 40 per cent, aiming to increase the overall numbers taking Irish and the uptake at higher level. This change was flagged in advance over a five year period, so Hanafin was long gone from the DES when the results of her initiative began to emerge in the past few years.

Evidence from the higher level Irish results for 2012-2014 show the increase in the oral component to 40 per cent has led to an increase in the actual numbers taking Irish in the Leaving at higher level. As a proportion of those sitting English, the number who actually sit Irish at all three levels has increased over the past three years from 42,964 (85.17%) to 43,651 (85.83%) to 45,268 (86.6%). The number taking Irish at higher level has increased from 15,937 (37%) to 18,134 (40%). The success rate of these students in securing a C or higher (88.8%) is by far the highest of the mainstream subjects; the failure rate is just 0.6%. At ordinary level failure is a modest 4.1%.

Compared to the numbers taking English, which is indicative of the total numbers of school-based full-time Leaving Cert students, over 13.4% of full-time Leaving Cert students at second level do not sit Irish in the Leaving. Many of them are exempted because of a disability or having moved to Ireland late in primary school. Apart from these, a significant number registered as studying Irish, as non-exempted students are required to do, have effectively abandoned the subject, and fail to even turn up to sit the exams in the Leaving. These numbers highlight the question of whether Irish should remain compulsory for all students not exempted up to Leaving Cert level.

Teacher unions are concerned about the capacity of schools to continue offering the full range of Leaving Cert subjects given staff cutbacks. This is not reflected in the numbers taking the wide range of optional subjects. Spanish is now taken by 5,340 or 10% of Leaving Cert students. The numbers taking higher level Spanish, having increased by 17% last year, went up by a further 10% in 2014, to 3,378. This is welcome given the ongoing dominance of French (26,496 students or half of Leaving Cert students), and, to a lesser extent, German (6,858 or 13%).

The message that there are career advantages in science has been taken on board by students, as seen by the increase in the numbers taking science subjects. Across biology, chemistry, physics, agricultural science and physics/chemistry, 57,141 papers were taken by approximately 54,000 students.

The Leaving Cert student numbers increased by 2.9% this year, but the percentage increase at higher level science subjects is 4.3% in biology, 6.4% in agricultural science, 7% in chemistry and 12% in physics. The numbers for applied maths increased again this year to 1,569 at higher (over 28% got an A).

There is an increase again for non-curricular EU languages – from 1,470 in 2013 to 1,485 in 2014. Polish was taken by 50% of students who took a non-curricular EU language. Croatian was offered for the first time this year, with 23 candidates taking the examination. Other languages taken in 2014 included Japanese (298 students) and Arabic (108 students, all at higher level).

By far the most successful students in the 2014 Leaving Cert, as in 2013, are those who sat Russian. All 292 took the subject at higher level, and 97.5% got a C or higher, with 82.5% getting an A.

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