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Reform needed on Leaving Certificate and CAO application, says higher education minister

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said he intends to “overhaul” the CAO application form next year.

Image: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

CHANGES SHOULD BE made to the Leaving Certificate and the CAO application form, the higher education minister has said.

Minister Simon Harris intends to “overhaul” the CAO application form next year to recognise alternative paths outside of higher education.

Speaking on Spin 1038′s Spin Ar Scoil this morning, Harris said that the current form is too narrow.

“Next year, I plan on overhauling the CAO form because I think it narrows the conversation way way too much,” Harris said.

He said that the CAO form is “not the only way of getting to where you want to get to in life”. 

“Apprenticeships, further education – there are so many ways to getting to where you want to go.” 

The existing CAO form allows students to indicate ten ranked preferences on two lists – one for Level Eight courses, and one for Level Six and Seven courses.

Applications for the 2021/22 academic year closed in February, with an option to make changes to open between May and July.

The minister said that the Leaving Certificate system overall needs to be looked at to consider how the government can “do better by students”, particularly in the context of the changes incurred during the pandemic.

“What it taught me was that it’s actually possible not to have a Leaving Cert and for the sky not to fall in and for the earth to continue to rotate on its axis and for students to get on into college life,” Harris said.

“I don’t want to be flippant about it, the Leaving Cert is long and tested and there are good points, but we should be willing to open our minds to actually have a discussion about how we can do better by students,” he said.

Sixth year students have a choice this year between sitting the Leaving Certificate exams, receiving calculated grades – now being called “accredited grades” – or both. 

If a student chooses both, the grade that gives the highest points between the options is to be the one recorded on their results.

Students had a six-day window to indicate their preference on the SEC candidate portal, which closed on Tuesday.

Harris said the department is seeking to offset any increase in points by providing more places in higher education.

In an average year, around 50% of CAO applicants are offered their first choice and 80% are offered one of their top three choices, he said.

“What I’m saying to the Leaving Cert students this year is I’m trying to maintain those ratios, so I’m making sure you have as much of a chance as you would have in any other year.”

Sixth year students returned to physical classes for the first time since Christmas on 1 March, followed by fifth years at the start of this week.

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Other secondary school students are due to return on 12 April after the Easter break.

Schools were closed under the strict Level 5 restrictions put in place after Christmas.

The government has indicated that there may be a slight easing on some restrictions from 5 April, which would likely focus around construction sites and the 5km limit on travel.

Harris said that there are reasons to be “hopeful” looking into the next few months.

“It might seem hard to believe but there is going to be a life in Ireland post-Covid,” the minister said.

“Can I just say, particularly to young people, that your normal now is not going to be your normal forever. People are missing out on milestones, missing out on graduations, debs, times with their friends, sports hobbies, people who are in their first year of college who’ve never got to set foot on campus,” he said.

“Sometimes it can seem like this is going to go on forever because it’s going on a long time – it really isn’t. We’ve good cause to be hopeful and that the next few months are going to see a very different Ireland and a safer place for all of us.”

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