Sunday 4 December 2016

All students are equal - it's time to abolish the 25 bonus points rule

In my opinion by BillyRyle

Published 18/05/2016 | 02:30

Billy Ryle, school guidance counsellor
Billy Ryle, school guidance counsellor

CAO application statistics show that the prospect of getting a good job is never far from the minds of applicants. Indeed, in recent years, the Government as well as employer organisations, such as Ibec, has strongly advocated courses in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) as essential for the smart economy of the future.

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The STEM courses held little appeal for years but are now regarded as crucial skills in the country's economic recovery. As a further incentive for applicants to put STEM courses on their CAO form, a large juicy carrot was placed on the end of a big stick - 25 bonus points were made available from 2012 to each student achieving at least a D3 in higher level maths.

Bonus points were offered to encourage students to study higher maths to satisfy the needs of the so called "smart economy." The hope was that more of those studying higher maths would apply for one of the STEM courses and we have seen applicants flocking to these courses in substantial numbers.

While there is no conclusive evidence that many applicants who may not be suited to, or even like, these courses have entered them on the CAO form to enhance their job prospects, that would seem to be the case.

In doing so, applicants may not have fully considered their personal career 4AVIP profile - ability, achievement, aptitude, application, values, interests and personality - for the sake of "a good job." They may have been more persuaded by the "pick a profession rather than follow your passion," argument than the "let your heart not the job be your yardstick" perspective.

About 14,700 (27pc) Leaving Certifiate candidates sat higher level maths in 2015 compared with 8,250 (16pc) in the year before bonus points were available. The recently published State Examinations Commission's (SEC) Chief Examiner's report on students' performance in the 2015 exams confirms that many students are over-stretching themselves in higher maths - and probably because of the 25 bonus points.

Far too many students are devoting countless hours of study to a level of maths to which they are unsuited and don't need for their course choices. Many of them drop down to ordinary level at the 11th hour or achieve a below D grade in the State exam. Even if they manage a pass grade to achieve the 25 bonus points, there is strong anecdotal evidence that many candidates lose far more points, by not concentrating on their stronger subjects, than they gain from the bonus points. And, of course, the 25 bonus points only kick in if maths is one of their six best subjects, on which points are calculated.

As a life-long lover of numeracy, who has taught maths at all levels at secondary school, I could never understand the elevated status of "honours maths."

People have multiple intelligences so each and every subject on the curriculum is entitled to "equality of esteem". A candidate who achieves a higher grade in art, economics, French or any other subject should be entitled to the same points as a candidate who scores the equivalent grade in higher maths. I have always opposed bonus points in any subject in the State exams.

As an experienced career guidance counsellor, I have never felt comfortable with this unjustifiable anomaly in the "unitary" points system, which discriminates against candidates not taking higher level maths. All children are gifted and talented. What will we do without our writers, our actors, our musicians, our artists, our dancers, our historians, our philosophers if all our children are persuaded to become STEMmers?

With a new revised grading and points system coming on stream in 2017, it's time to level the playing field, to acknowledge the value and uniqueness of every exam candidate and to abolish the 25 bonus points for higher maths in the Leaving Cert.

Billy Ryle is a guidance counsellor

Irish Independent

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