Students who ‘failed’ exams to get CAO points

Those who obtained D1 grade are to be eligible for entry to honours degree courses

Any student who previously failed a Leaving Cert exam with an E grade will be entitled to CAO points for the first time, under changes to be announced later this week.

A new CAO points system aimed at easing the pressure on students is due to come into force for students sitting the Leaving Cert next summer.

As part of the move, however, higher education institutions have agreed that the same criteria regarding matriculation and entry requirements to those presenting with Leaving Cert results from 2016 and all prior years will apply.

Technically, the notion of a “fail” in a Leaving Cert exam was abolished some time ago but, in practice, students and parents have understood 39 per cent or less as a fail.


Under the new system, students who get 30-39 per cent on a higher-level paper will be awarded 37 points.

This decision, which changes the previous position held by some third-level presidents, will open up study options to many adults who would formally have been excluded from their desired programmes.

Honours degree

Another key change agreed by higher education institutions is that any student who has secured a D1 grade (50-55 per cent) in a previous Leaving Cert will be deemed eligible for entry to honours degree courses for the first time.

Until now, many honours bachelor degree (or level eight) courses required a minimum of two higher level C3’s or a 55-59 per cent on both papers.

This will now be superseded by the new requirement that the equivalent of a D1 is sufficient to meet entry requirements from 2017 onwards.

The old familiar grading system – A, B and C – is being replaced with a new system in which higher-level grades will run from H1 to H8 and ordinary grades from O1 to O8.

Instead of grades based on bands of 5 per cent (such as a B1 or B2) they will be based on bands of 10 per cent.

The changes will have implications for students who sat this year’s Leaving Cert and are considering repeating.

For example, some 700 higher-level students secured less than a D3 grade in maths in this year’s exam.

Results appealed

Most of them appealed their result and 135 students recently received an upgrade from the State Examinations Commission.

Many of those who failed to secure an upgrade may be considering repeating maths in next year’s Leaving Cert to meet the pass in maths entry requirement set by most courses offered through the CAO.

Following the decision of the colleges, however, all of these students will now be deemed to have secured the pass entry requirements in maths and will not need to register with the State Examinations Commission to resit maths in the 2017 Leaving Cert.

However, applicants will need to review the entry requirements carefully for each course they are considering applying for in 2017, as in a small number of cases the entry requirements have increased.

For example, in some engineering courses the maths requirement in 2016 was for a higher level C3 grade (55-59 per cent) and in 2017 this has increased slightly to H4 (60-69 per cent).

This means that from 2017, students presenting Leaving Certs from 2016 and before will require a HC2 to entry these programmes.

Colleges will have no way of knowing whether this decision will have a major effect on the number of previous Leaving Cert students who may choose, based on this decision, to apply for a place in a honours degree (level eight) programme in 2017.

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney is a guidance counsellor and education columnist. He contributes education articles to The Irish Times

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