Thursday 29 September 2016

Katherine Donnelly: Something is just not adding up in maths

Published 17/08/2016 | 02:30

This year there has been a big rise in the number dropping from ordinary level to foundation
level. Getty Images
This year there has been a big rise in the number dropping from ordinary level to foundation level. Getty Images

With 28pc of Leaving Certificate maths students taking the higher level maths paper, the Government strategy to boost national skill levels in this important subject, appears on target.

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That is the 'good' maths story. But, turn the spotlight to the other end of the maths performance spectrum and there are worrying developments afoot. More than 15,000 of this years' 54,226 maths candidates sat the "honours" paper, achieving the D grade that earns them an extra 25 CAO points.

Schools and pupils put a lot of work into getting that D; there is growing anecdotal evidence of schools laying on extra maths classes for those students. They need it because the "honours" course is onerous, particularly for the middle-ranking students who have been lured up by the bonus points. The increased uptake is welcomed by Government and employers for the extra number of school-leavers equipped to pursue further study and careers in an economy and world with a high reliance on maths-based skills.

There is also a hope this new level of ambition and achievement will lift Ireland's "average" rating in international education league tables. But with the national eye on encouraging and supporting the better students, are others increasingly out of focus, and being left behind?

We have been used to high fail rates among ordinary level maths students in the Leaving, in or around 9-10pc. It dropped below 6pc last year, but it seems that was because of generous marking to compensate for a paper candidates said was "undoable".

This year, the fail rate is back to normal levels - there has never been an explanation as to why it is acceptable that such a high proportion of ordinary level students don't achieve 40pc.

On top of that, this year there has been a big rise in the number dropping from ordinary level to foundation level. Last year about 5,600 students sat foundation level, this year it jumped to 6,478. Why did 865 pupils drop down this year? Something's wrong.

If we have more high achievers but also more low achievers, we will still be average.

Irish Independent

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