Quinn expresses concern over poor maths results


Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has pledged to examine ways to improve results in maths following the release of Leaving Certificate results today.

High failure rates in maths and science – and relatively poor results in business subjects – are the most striking trends in this year’s results.

Mr Quinn said he had given Seán Sherlock, Minister of State for Research, the task of looking at how to improve results in maths.

Speaking in Clifden, Co Galway, this afternoon, the Minister expressed hope that the new maths syllabus, Project Maths, would address the problem.

"The poor maths results do concern me. We have a problem here. This was recognised by the previous government, and Project Maths was the result of a reform of the maths syllabus. It is now in its second year, and positive results are coming from it," he said.

"We must ensure that the concerns of are met by reform in how the subject is taught. There is also a role for the points system. The effort required to get a high result in some subjects is less than in other subjects.

"[Former minister for education] Mary Coughlan persuaded universities to add a bonus of 25 additional points in maths. If this doesn't work, we may need to look at additional points for science and additional supports for the teaching of the subjects."

Both the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) and Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (Asti) claimed worsening pupil-teacher ratios have forced some students and schools to drop subjects and teaching methods.

Asti president Brendan Broderick claimed there had been a 3.4 per cent drop in the number of students taking physics and a 4.8 per cent drop in the number taking German. “It is clear that if the pupil-teacher ratio is targeted again, more schools will be forced to drop subjects that are vital to economic recovery,” he said.

TUI president Bernie Ruane said she was gravely concerned about a 5 per cent drop in numbers taking the Leaving Certificate Applied option that traditionally kept students at greater risk of dropping out in education.

“This is a clear illustration of the damage that education cuts wreak on the most vulnerable students,” she said.

Earlier today, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) called for an overhaul of the Leaving Cert, saying the exam was in "dire" need of change.

The union said students were being forced to sit too many exams in too short a period of time, leading to high stress and reduced performance.

USI president Gary Redmond said research was required into the high failure rate in science and maths in this year’s exam. "The question of why only 50 per cent of teachers are qualified to teach maths, needs to be looked at," he said.

"A new Leaving Certificate system of continuous assessment should be introduced for a fairer assessment of the performance of secondary school students over a longer period of time," he said.

Today's results also highlighted the two-tier nature of Irish education. While ordinary level students registered high failure rates, higher level students achieved record results, raising renewed fears about grade inflation.

The percentage of students gaining an A, B or C at higher level is at its highest ever level (77 per cent) and up from 64 per cent in 1992. Some 43 per cent of students scored an A or B at higher level, up from 27 per cent in 1992.

The increase in grades will raise renewed questions about the nature of the Leaving Cert examinations. The most recent ranking from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development showed an alarming slippage in Irish literacy and numeracy levels – but this trend is not reflected in exam results published yesterday.

In a now familiar trend, 10 per cent of students failed maths at ordinary level. Overall, 4,367 students failed maths across all levels, making them ineligible for many third-level courses. Results were marginally better among the 1,900 students who took the new "user-friendly" Project Maths course in 24 schools. But the Government will be disappointed by the poor take-up for higher level maths in these schools. Only 16 per cent took the subject at higher level, the same number who took the mainstream exam.

Failure rates were also high in physics (8 per cent), chemistry (9 per cent ) and biology (8 per cent). Business (7 per cent) and accounting (6 per cent) were also among the minority of higher level subjects with relatively high failure rates.

Among high achievers, 10 students achieved nine A1s, while 141 students secured the so-called “perfect” Leaving, with six A1s or 600 points.

Other features of this year’s results include:

* Only 70 per cent of higher level students secured an A, B or C in biology, one of the lowest honours rates for any higher level subject;

* The number of students taking Irish in the exam (44,300) is down over 1,200 since 2009; it is now at record low levels. While the subject is compulsory, increasing numbers are gaining exemptions or not showing for the exam;

* The honours rate (those gaining A, B or C at higher level) remains very high in Art (82 per cent) and music (94 per cent).

* An exam helpline is available at freephone 1800 946 942 (Republic of Ireland) and 003531 6758435 from Northern Ireland. Lines are open from 8am to 7pm today until Tuesday August 23rd.

Additional reporting PA