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Universities propose radical overhaul of Leaving Cert points system

A submission to Ruairí Quinn sees Ireland’s seven universities outline issues with the Leaving Cert – and how to change it.

The college entry system could be dramatically overhauled, under new proposals published by the heads of Ireland's seven universities.
The college entry system could be dramatically overhauled, under new proposals published by the heads of Ireland's seven universities.
Image: Graham Hughes/Photocall Ireland

THE HEADS of Ireland’s seven universities had made a joint submission to education minister Ruairí Quinn, suggesting the most radical shake-up of the Leaving Certificate and college entry system for decades.

The submission proposes overhauling the college application system so that applicants are awarded points based on how well they have done in comparison to other students taking the same subject.

The proposals would see 100 CAO points issued only to the students who come within the top 1 per cent of the entire country’s applicants, with those in the second percentile getting 99 points, the third percentile 98, and so on.

The report also suggests simplifying the Leaving Cert grading system – scrapping the B1, B2, B3-style system and replacing them with simple ‘B’ grades – as their current purpose of differentiating between different students would be superseded by the other proposals.

Grades would still be awarded in order to rank students if their overall CAO points scores were equal.

Among the other suggestions made in the report is the introduction of a State-wide exam in key subjects like Irish and Maths at the end of Fifth Year, as a precursor to college entry.

This would operate as a straightforward competency exam in those subjects, ensuring that students seeking to go to college had already met minimum standards – freeing them up to concentrate on other subjects, or encouraging them to keep up those ones, for their final year of secondary school.

Common entry to reduce points requirements

Further suggestions include reforming college acceptance procedures so that a common entry procedure is in place for several courses – a move which would artificially increase the number of places available to entrants, and therefore help to relax the entry requirements.

The report cites the example of large Arts courses as a good example of how students can apply to a single large course, with lower entry requirements, while still being able to study a wide variety of disciplines and specialise as they choose.

Other proposals are the elaboration of bonus points system, similar to the one introduced for Higher Level Maths this year, to incentivise students to concentrate on areas which would benefit the larger educational landscape and Ireland’s overall economy.

While the report praises the current Leaving Cert system as “utterly transparent”, “highly efficient and cost effective”, and “a reliable predictor of student performance in higher education”, the current system is criticised as allowing “the more advantaged to game the system”.

The current system is also found not to “promote positive educational values or personal development, but rather a very narrow instrumental approach to education and development which distorts approaches to teaching and learning” at both second and third level.

The current benefits “come at a significant price”, it says, meaning the entire system overseeing the transition from second-level to third-level education needs to be “rebalanced in favour of positive educational values”.

More: Trinity scheme to offer college places to students below CAO minimum

Poll: Should more than just points be considered for entry to college courses?

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Gavan Reilly

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