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Increase in Maths fails and fewer A1s overall: Here's how students got on with the Leaving Cert

A1s are down but there’s a few positive trends as well.

Image: Shutterstock/legenda

THE WAIT IS finally over and students across the country will soon be able to breathe a collective sigh of relief:

The Leaving Cert results are in.

Overall national statistics show it’s been a mixed bag in terms of how students compared to last year, with the number of A1s down in most subjects, but results looking better in certain areas.

6,279 people in total received A1s in this year’s round of results, compared to 6,654 last year.

The number of A1s has dropped by 375 on last year’s results.

Six people received eight A1s representing a drop on last year.

As well as this, there was no one who received nine A1s in this year’s round of results, compared to one person last year.

Statistics released by the State Examinations Commission (SEC) show that 58,466 students sat the Leaving Certificate examination this year, up almost 1% on last year (57,931 students).

The most popular high-level subjects to be taken by students were:

  • English (36,577)
  • Biology (25,212)
  • Irish (20,098)
  • Geography (18,668)
  • French (15,253)
  • Maths (15,198)
  • History (8,752)

The Big Three

Questions have been raised in recent years over the rising rates of failure in higher-level Maths.

Much focus has been on Maths due to the changes to the syllabus over the past few years and the introduction of Project Maths.

The results show that the rate of failure in higher-level has dropped slightly to 4.6%, compared to 5% last year.

As well as this, the rate of A1s at higher-level has risen to 5.5% this year from 5.2% last year.

However, the number of people failing to get a D grade or higher in ordinary-level Maths has risen significantly.

In total, about 4,000 students failed Maths across higher, ordinary and foundation levels.

File Photo Leaving Cert Exams Begin This Wednesday. File photo. Source: Laura Hutton/

The rate of failure in ordinary-level Maths is up from 5.8% to 9.2%, a rise of 3.4%.

And while most higher-level maths students passed the exam, about 700 failed.

Commenting on the Maths results, Education Minister Richard Bruton said that there were features that “need closer examination”.

“We will be looking at those. I understand there has been difficulty in some areas… and we may need to  look at that,” he said.

The curriculum board will be looking at the whole Maths area this year and we’ll see how we can work on that.

Irish fared the best out of all the papers, with 86% of students receiving an honours grade in the higher paper (although this is a drop on last year).

5.3% of students received an A1 in the subject (down 1.2% on last year).

The rate of A1s received in the English higher-level stayed static this year at 3.2%.

Overall, 36,577 took the exam, making it the most popular subject.

As the below graphs show, the number of A1s in higher-level Maths has been rising steadily over the past three years. A1s in Irish shot up last year before settling back down this year, while English has remained relatively steady.

graph Source:

When compared to ordinary-level, A1s in Maths took a big hit last year before rebounding well this year. Irish and English have both remained relatively steady over the past three years.

Graph Ordinary Source:


French was the most popular foreign language taken by students this year, with 25,758 students taking both higher and ordinary level.

5.8% of students in higher-level received an A1, compared with 6.5% last year.

Russian had the highest rate of A1s out of any subject.

In total, 333 students took the higher-level course and a whopping 68.2% of these received an A1 grade (compared to 72.1% last year).

Latin followed behind. While only 104 students took the exam, 16.3% of these received A1s.

File Photo Leaving Cert Exams Begin This Wednesday. Source: Laura Hutton

This is again a big drop on the 30% that received A1s in 2015.

Teachers of Spanish will be happy with how students did in the subject overall. 250 extra students took higher-level in the subject and the rate of A1s rose to 9% (compared to 8.5% last year).

Arabic was one of the few subjects that performed significantly stronger in compared to last year.

110 students in total took the subject, with nearly 11% of these getting A1s. This is a big jump on the 5.3% who received an A1 last year.

In total, 1,424 students took non-curricular EU languages this year, a slight rise on last year.

Here is the breakdown of languages that were studied:

Foreign languages


As is the norm, Biology was by far the most popular science subject this year, with 34,102 students taking the subject overall.

There was a full percentage point drop in the number of A1s in higher-level for the subject, with 5.5% receiving the honour this year.

The number of students taking higher-level Chemistry was up this year to 7,658, but as with the general trend the rate of of A1s was also down to 10.5% compared to 12.8% last year.

In Physics, the rate of A1s was also down on last year.


The rate of passing and A1s was up in a number of subjects in this year’s Leaving Cert.

Other subjects in which students improved are:

  • Art - 7,789 took higher-level in the subject this year and 1.3% of these received A1s (compared to 1.1% last year)
  • Music - 6,046 took the higher-level subject and 4% of these received A1s (compared to 3.8% last year)

Commenting on the results, Bruton congratulated students on reaching an important milestone and urged them to think carefully about their options in the future.

“There are more course and career options than ever before available to students to consider after their Leaving Certificate,” the minister said.

“There is a wide range of other training and education opportunities available alongside those offered through the CAO process, such as apprenticeships and Post Leaving Certificate courses.

We are also developing new apprenticeship pathways to expand opportunities for the future. So whatever your results – there is something out there for you.

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About the author:

Cormac Fitzgerald

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