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Simon Harris: It's time to end the Leaving Cert points race in Ireland

The Minister for Further and Higher Education says the Leaving Cert is not the only avenue to an education.

Simon Harris TD

Updated Sep 3rd 2021, 4:30 PM

TODAY IS SUCH an exciting and important day for 61,000 students across the country receiving their Leaving Cert results.

There will be many people excited and happy with their results, but there will, of course, be disappointment for some too.

I want to assure you the points you have received today do not define you or in any way represent all of your capabilities and potential.

The Leaving Cert, however, can be a pathway to your next step in life, and I want to assure you there is a place for you in third level if you want it – whether it be higher education, further education or apprenticeships.

As you digest your results this weekend, be sure to consider all of your options and not just the offer that may land in your inbox on Tuesday.

Many roads

There are so many ways for you to get to where you want to. So, let me give you an example; if you’ve put down for nursing, and if you don’t get the points for nursing, for whatever reason, do you know there’s pre-nursing courses you can do in your local Further Education college, that can help you progress to becoming a nurse.

Or if you want to work in healthcare and want to earn as you learn, do you know you can become a healthcare assistant through an apprenticeship programme? These are just two examples of how there are different ways of arriving at the same destination.

There are so many avenues open to you and I am absolutely determined to ensure you are aware of all of them.

For those of you seeking to attend higher education, we have seen a record number of people apply through the Central Applications Office (CAO) for a place in our colleges. Over 84,500 people have applied through the CAO. There are three things driving this – a Covid effect, a Brexit effect and a very small increase in the number of school leavers applying.

The Covid effect is the increase in the number of mature students looking to retrain, which is a really great thing, and the Brexit impact is an increase in people within the European Union seeking to come study here.

We have done everything we can to increase the number of places available and we have secured an additional 4,620 places across a range of disciplines including health, engineering, journalism, business and green skills.

Offers will be sent out on Tuesday, and while it is likely we will see points rise, people should not panic or worry. As I said earlier, there is a place for everyone in third level.

On a wider point, we have to end the points race in Ireland and it is a key objective of mine to change the conversation we have about third level. Education is about doors opening, not closing.

We have an obsession in this country about the points race as if the number received accurately reflects how bright or capable a person is.

Third level

We also have an unhealthy obsession with institutions. Why do we, when we sit down with our 17-year-olds, every year, just talk about the college, the university, “Which university are you going to?” Why don’t we talk to the student about “what career pathway do you want?” “What motivates and inspires you?”

We have a huge body of reform underway with my Department, Solas, and the CAO. When this year’s sixth-year students log onto the CAO website, they will, for the very first time, be able to see their further education choices, their apprenticeship choices as well as their higher education choices.

They will be able to see all of their options on one page. The following year, we hope to build on that even more by ensuring you can apply for whatever you like through the CAO website. I want to pay tribute to the CAO and Solas for their leadership on this.

We will do more. We will ensure it is easier to transition between further and higher education, we will launch joint further and higher education programmes. It is a really exciting time for third level and I am absolutely thrilled to be the Minister overseeing this Department at this crucial time of reform for the future.

But today is a day for our Leaving Cert students to celebrate what they have achieved. You have completed this during a global pandemic and now you are out the other side.

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We are so proud of you and the third level system awaits you whenever you are ready.

Simon Harris is the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. 

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