'Project Maths' helping to raise grades
MORE than 4,000 students failed Leaving Cert maths this year, but the new approach to teaching the subject has produced some promising results.
Failure rates almost halved among ordinary level students who sat the new Project Maths in Paper 2 of the exam.
There is also evidence that the innovative hands-on approach to teaching the subject has encouraged some students to raise their sights and aim for a higher level exam.
The State Examinations Commission (SEC) said last night that the 2010 exam had "seen an encouraging start" to the introduction of Project Maths, which was taken by 1,800 students in 24 schools.
However, the overall high failure rates in maths this year remains a cause for concern. Many students are excluded from a place at third level because a pass grade is a minimum requirement for almost all such courses.
Project Maths is being rolled out in response to concern about the average rating, internationally, of the problem-solving skills of Irish teenagers and the need to equip school-leavers for the smart economy. It is designed to teach maths in a way that promotes real understanding.
The SEC urges caution when comparing the outcomes due to the small number of students involved in Project Maths. However, in one promising signal, 18.5pc of Project Maths candidates took the subject at higher level, compared with 16pc generally. Similarly, there was an upward drift to Ordinary Level from Foundation Level.
While the overall failure rate among ordinary level candidates generally was 9.8pc, within the Project Maths group it was 5.4pc on the one paper taken. At higher level, the overall failure rate was 3.7pc, while it was 4.8pc at foundation level.
There was also an increase in the failure rate in biology higher level -- up from 8.5pc to 9.2pc. The chemistry higher level failure rate rose from 6.9pc to 8.1pc, while at ordinary level it rose to 18.5pc. It dropped slightly for physics higher level, but rose from 10pc to 11.6pc for ordinary level.
The employers' organisation IBEC described the overall maths results as "disappointing", with only 16pc of the 52,290 students who sat maths taking higher level.
"This is down from a high of 18.9pc in 2005 and is significantly out of line with other subjects," said IBEC head of education policy Tony Donohoe. "On a more positive note, it is encouraging that a higher percentage of students from schools participating in the Project Maths programme took the higher level option."
He said maths was critical for the success of the high-value knowledge-intensive business sectors that would drive economic recovery.
Mr Donohoe called on the Department of Education and Skills to ensure that all students are taught only by teachers who hold an adequate qualification in the subject, the single most important element in improving standards.
Joanne Richardson, chief executive of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland, which represents more than 600 US companies here, said the continuing failure rates in subjects such as maths, chemistry and physics were disappointing "considering the focus on developing a smart economy".