THE MUCH-anticipated report from the seven university presidents on the Leaving Cert/points system is a highly significant document which could over time herald substantial change. The report – requested by Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn – has much merit. In making the case for more common entry routes to college, it openly acknowledges how the current system has contributed to the points race.
It is scathing about existing arrangements which do not promote positive education values or personal development. Having examined the system in detail, the seven presidents conclude that the selection process for higher education is having “disproportionate and undesirable effects on student learning . . . at second level.’’
That said, they acknowledge there is no panacea and “no perfect system’’. This makes sense. The two most recent innovations in the CAO system – bonus points for maths and the Hpat process for medicine – have had unintended consequences. Bonus maths has distorted the points system while the Hpat exam is seen as being much more “predictable” than envisaged. These serve as a reminder of how the task ahead in recasting the entire Leaving Cert-CAO system is a formidable one. The paper presents a broad range of policy options for discussion; the plan is that a taskforce will tease out these proposals and report back before the end of the year.
Many of the proposals are sensible and pragmatic. It makes sense to incentivise strategically important subjects. The success of the bonus system for higher-level maths in boosting student interest to record levels shows how “social engineering” of this kind can reverse well-established trends. Is there a case for similar incentives for key subjects like physics and chemistry which currently attract only about one in six Leaving Certs at higher level?
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