Schools and entry to third level


Sir, – What is evident from this Leaving Certificate fiasco is that we are stuck in a place where our entire educational system fails to work as a whole.

Primary school teachers, through play and interaction, music, drama, the outdoors, among other things, do their best to instil the love of learning into our children. I believe we do this well and our children leave this system on a sound footing.

These children, however, then move into a second-level system that almost immediately teaches to the exam. In secondary school there is little or no room for education for the sake of expanding the mind, encouraging exploration or flights of fancy – it is simply a case of “in the exam you are likely to be asked . . .”.

And what of our third-level institutions? Isn’t it about time they created a better system for selection of their cohort? Why is our entire second-level system sacrificed to facilitate this task? Yes, it will be administratively onerous and costly, but do the drop-out rates as recorded by the Higher Education Authority of as much as one in six students not give them some inkling that the current system of selection is failing them too?

Is it not time for a more sophisticated system for admission to third level that will leave our secondary teachers and pupils free to better engage with their subject material?

When the worst of this pandemic is over, those managing second- and third-level education must sit down together and reallocate responsibility for moving our young people from second to third level. Second-level teachers are entitled to impart knowledge and teach their subjects not purely so that they can be assessed with an eye to a college place. Third-level colleges need to get the right fit of student for each course and avoid high drop-out rates. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 14.

Sir, – Under normal circumstances, certain inequities are built into the education system as a whole, and the Leaving Cert in particular. However, I have yet to hear a proposal for an alternative to the Leaving Cert that would not actually exacerbate those inequities.

One thing is sure though and it is this: the closing of schools, and the adoption of a predicted grade approach, has had the effect of amplifying inequities and uncertainties within the system.

In such circumstances, it seems morally unacceptable to use the current CAO system, where very fine margins determine the immediate future of school-leavers, as the primary means of admission to the universities.

For a number of years now, the Government and many influential figures in the world of education have advocated for a more generic (non-denominated) system of entry to university.

While I haven’t always agreed with this viewpoint, I strongly believe that this is the time to take the plunge. What this means, in practice, is that students would not be admitted to a particular degree programme until the end of their first year in college.

Without doubt, the logistics of making this change are significant but we owe it to the class of 2020 to give it serious consideration. – Yours, etc,


Associate Professor,

Bioprocess Engineering,

School of Biotechnology,

Dublin City University,

Dublin 9.