University heads back new points system


THE LEAVING Cert exam and the CAO points system do not promote positive education values or personal development, university presidents have advised Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn.

In a report presented to the Minister yesterday, they argue the selection process for higher education is having “disproportionate and undesirable effects on student learning . . . at second level”.

The presidents back a new ranking system for Leaving Cert scores, more common entry routes into college, a reduction in Leaving Cert grades and new efforts to “incentivise strategically important subjects”. However, they stress there is no perfect system and no perfect solution.

A taskforce chaired by NUI president Dr Philip Nolan will examine the proposals and report back before the end of the year.

“We do not wish to be prescriptive in regard to the issues to be addressed by the task force,” the report says. It backs away from awarding CAO points for absolute scores in the Leaving Cert and focusing on the relative performance in the subject. Essentially, it says, the highest points would be awarded to the students who perform best relative to their peers in the specific subject.

“The most obvious way to convert merit ranking into points is to use percentiles, with those in the top 1 per cent getting 100 points, those in the next 1 per cent getting 99 points and so on, with those in the bottom 1 per cent getting one point,” the report says.

“An advantage of this option is that it is independent of subject workload, marking differences, grade distribution etc. It could therefore be considered a fairer system of rewarding student effort and performance. It could incentivise students to take what are currently regarded as the ‘harder’ subjects.”

Other recommendations are:

* Wider availability of common entry courses to take some of the “heat” out of the points race: The heads acknowledge much of the pressure on points arises from those courses where places are most limited and points are highest.

* Incentivisation of strategically important subjects: With the exception of bonus points for maths, all subjects are currently treated equally for points purposes. There is scope to change this approach to create further incentives for students to study specific prioritised subjects.

* Revised Leaving Cert assessment methodologies: This, the report says, is a priority issue that will be addressed by the taskforce.

* More graduate-entry only for certain professional courses: These are the courses for which the competition is greatest and therefore have the highest points.

* Review of the timing of the Leaving results: Current arrangements, it says, allow little flexibility for learners, guidance counsellors or providers to ensure that final choices made by learners regarding post-secondary options are made based on the most complete information possible, including Leaving Cert results. This could ensure that students progress efficiently to their most suitable option, and that this transition is made in a way which enhances the learner’s chances of success.

* Introduction of a maths and Irish examination for matriculation purposes at end of fifth year: While bonus points for maths have assisted in addressing the issue of students dropping back from the honours course to the ordinary, there is potential to use additional approaches to address this phenomenon.

The full text of the university presidents’ report is available at