School-leavers will have to aim higher under new grades
Published 16/08/2016 | 02:30
Next year's Leaving Cert classes are facing some major changes in terms of the results they will need to get into college.
Students will have to achieve higher marks in key subjects in order to be considered for certain college courses - although in others the minimum grade required will drop.
CAO applicants who need an 'honour' in maths for degree programmes, such as engineering, will be among those feeling the impact.
Instead of a minimum mark of 55pc on a higher level paper - a common requirement for engineering courses - they will need to score at least 60pc.
Other subject areas where Leaving Cert exam candidates can expect to have to reach higher standards in 2017 include languages and science.
Much will depend on the particular course for which a student is applying - and colleges are expected to release their new requirements in coming weeks.
The country's largest university, UCD, has published details of the changes ahead for its entrants on its website, but others have not.
The changes are linked to the new Leaving Certificate grading and CAO points system, which is being rolled out for the 2017 exams.
Traditional ABC grades are being replaced by a new scale, running from H1 to H7 at higher level and O1-O7 at ordinary level, with knock-on adjustments to CAO points.
The new grades will cover a stretch of 10 percentage points - eg 50pc-59pc on a higher level paper will be a H5, while 40pc-49pc will be a H6.
Under the existing grading system, bands go up in steps of five - eg a C3 is 55pc-59pc and a C2 is 60pc-64pc.
The changes will transform the face of the CAO points tables. But more than that, they have triggered a review of college minimum entry requirements, where the new bandwidth doesn't align with existing parameters.
In cases where a mark of 55pc at higher level is the current minimum, colleges had to make a decision on whether to lower that to 50pc, a H5, or to raise it to 60pc, a H4.
Minimum requirements in subjects for a particular course are key because students have to achieve these before CAO points are even considered.
For instance, a student who achieves 550 points on the CAO would not be offered a place on any course if, for instance they had not achieved at least a D3 in maths.
Students applying for engineering courses generally need a minimum higher level C3; but from next year they will need a H4 (60pc-70pc).
UCD will also require entrants to engineering to achieve a minimum H5 in science, up from the current higher level D3, (40pc-45pc), which means students will have to score at least an extra 10pc.
However, examples of where students can look forward to a lowering in the minimum requirements include veterinary medicine in UCD and pharmacy in UCC, both of which will accept a H5 in chemistry from 2017, instead of the existing higher level C3.
The changes mean that students entering 6th year in September will have to review the minimum entry requirements they need for their preferred CAO courses.
It will mean that half-way through senior cycle many students will have to step up a gear in their studies if they want to reach the new subject standard.
As well as impacting on incoming sixth-year students, it will also affect those considering repeating the Leaving Cert or those who reapply for college next year based on results from 2016, or an earlier year.
From next year, the new grading/CAO points scale will be the currency for college entry, and results from 2016 or previous years will be converted to the new system.