Testing times: The hot topics on our online helpdesk

Our guidance counsellors have been busy fielding questions about results rechecks, maths compensation rules and the Dare disability scheme

Results helpdesk guidance counsellors Deirdre Garrett and Brian Howard work to answer questions at The Irish Times. Photograph: Sara Freund

Every year the Leaving Cert brings a fresh wave of post-results frenzy. Anxious teens and their parents are eager to know how to handle the college offers process, and what happens when their CAO points fall short.

This year, the free Irish Times online helpdesk answered thousands of questions on topics ranging from results appeals to college transfers to Dare disability scheme allocations.

It's a busy time for our experts, members of the Institute of Guidance Councillors (IGC), who reply to the queries that flood into the helpdesk. They responded quickly to readers' queries posted online at irishtimes.com/results2015, where other readers with similar concerns can also check out the information they give.

A lot of disappointed people contacted the helpdesk following results day. Many focused on how to get exam scripts rechecked through the appeals process, and whether doing this could create further problems. "We got a lot of questions about what happens if someone drops in points as a result of an appeal. Would their CAO place be taken off them? If you did drop, and there would be very few who do, the college decides what happens," says Brian Howard, a career guidance counsellor in Newbridge College, Co Kildare, and a former national secretary of IGC.


Maths was another hot subject after the results were issued. "One of the topics that came up a lot was the maths compensation rules some universities have," says Deirdre Garrett, a guidance counsellor at St Paul's, Monasterevin, and secretary of the Business Studies Teachers' Association of Ireland Kildare.

“It’s where a college will be willing to accept one higher E if somebody has, as part of their other grades, got three higher C3s or a higher D3 and a B3. So a higher E in maths might still be recognised as a matriculation subject.”

For courses such as science and engineering, where a particular maths grade is required, Garrett says some colleges offer second-chance exams based on the Leaving Cert curriculum. It’s a chance to meet the maths requirement without having to wait another year to repeat a single exam.

Increase in points

The issuing of the first round of CAO offers on August 17th saw another rush of queries to the helpdesk. While many students were delighted with their first round offers, others were left heartbroken after a year of hard work and dedication.

“I felt this year there was a sizeable jump in points for a lot of courses, and this caught a lot of applicants and had an impact on them getting into those courses,” says Garrett.

Alternative routes are available, however, and Fetac links was a talking point on the helpdesk. Students who don’t get their first choice can enrol on a post-Leaving Cert (PLC) course that is compatible with their preferred Level 8 honours degree course. Their first-year results may help them transfer to a reserved PLC place at their original choice of college the following year.

Dare scheme

Questions about the Disability Access Route to Education (Dare) scheme were more difficult for the guidanc counsellors to answer. The scheme offers places on reduced points to school-leavers with disabilities. Dare applications are treated inconsistently by colleges, and there is no transparency about how they allocate places.

“We had quite a few saying, ‘I’ve qualified under Dare; these are my results. Do you think I’m going to get an offer?’ ” says Howard.

“They might be 40 points short of last year’s cut off. We had to say we don’t know, because the colleges don’t publish how they allocate Dare places. It does create anxiety for Dare students. They may think they will get the points if they qualify, but it varies. One college said the maximum it could give was 40 points, and it would not just hand students 40 points, it might only allocate 20.”

Colleges have a separate quota for Dare students. A college might, for example, only have 10 places in total set aside for such applicants. These candidates are then put on a merit list, and the cut-off point can be the 10 with the highest points, so the other qualified Dare applicants can miss out on a place. The helpdesk guidance counsellors would like greater clarity from colleges on how the scheme operates.

Similar questions crop up on the helpdesk from year to year, but the past two weeks have seen an increase in queries about transferring to another course, internal or external, after starting college.

“College transfers are treated on an individual basis,” says Howard. “We advise that some colleges allow it and some don’t, but you have to contact them to find out, as they don’t publish this information. Sometimes people will start a course and realise it’s not what they thought it would be and want to change. A general rule of thumb is you can only transfer into a course you had the points for in the first place.”

The CAO continues to offer places into October.

Nora-Ide McAuliffe

Nora-Ide McAuliffe

Nora-Ide McAuliffe is an Audience Editor with The Irish Times