Back to the grinds for pressurised students
New grading system sees demand for tuition outside school soar, writes Kim Bielenberg
Teachers and colleges offering grinds report a surge in demand as students desperately try to score higher grades in the Leaving Cert. The introduction of a new grading system in 2017 and a growth in numbers doing higher-level subjects, particularly maths, have boosted demand for extra tuition.
Experienced maths grinds teacher Brendan Guildea, who does classes for the Institute of Education and the Dublin Academy of Education, says: "There are now more grinds courses than you can shake a stick at and the demand for them is colossal."
With parents in South Dublin shelling out up to €100 per hour for private tuition, the pervasive grinds culture raises questions about equality of access to third level.
Are students from disadvantaged backgrounds being handicapped in the points race because their parents cannot afford regular grinds?
Under the current Leaving Cert grading system, introduced in 2017, there are eight grades from H1 to H8 available at higher level separated by margins of 10pc. The margins used to be five per cent.
It was hoped that the broader grade bands would ease the pressure on students to achieve higher grades through marginal gains in exams. But according to some teachers, the bigger leap required to improve a grade is actually adding pressure to students.
And the earlier decision to award a score of 25 CAO bonus points for those who achieve 40pc or above in higher level maths (now grades H1 to H6) is also fuelling the grinds boom, as students attempt the more difficult course.
The recent ESRI report on the new grading system highlighted how grinds are a normal part of life for senior-cycle students in Irish schools.
Students told researchers about the need to have additional one-on-one support, particularly for maths. Some students talked of teachers not having time to go to them individually if they did not understand something in class.
As one student put it: "The teacher can do their best in maths, but... more than likely you're not going to grasp everything because you're working with the whole class."
When they choose grinds for their children, parents now have a wide variety of formats to pick from. Private tuition is by far the most expensive option, with prices commonly €50 per hour in Dublin and €35 per hour outside the capital.
Thousands of students also attend weekly grinds classes, which may take place at weekends or in the evening. The Dublin Academy of Education in Stillorgan, south Dublin has 3,500 students attending a class each week. They charge €34 per class if a student is doing one subject and a further €17 per class for a second subject. The academy opened a full-time school for fifth and sixth years with 200 students last September
The founder of the academy, Chris Lauder, says demand is driven by competition for college places and the rising expectation that students will go to third level.
"A student might just be falling short in a subject and needs that little bit extra to get over the line," says Lauder. "When there is a change in the curriculum, such as the introduction of Project Maths, demand for grinds goes through the roof."
To cater for the demand, the well-established Institute of Education recently moved beyond its city centre base to provide weekly grinds classes in both Deansgrange, south Dublin and Marino on the northside. Some students top up their classroom learning with week-long Easter revision courses such as those available at Yeats College in Galway for €165 for a single subject.
Many students are also turning to online formats, such as the Limerick-based website, JumpAgrade.com.
Students who sign up for JumpAgrade at a cost of €25 per week are given personalised worksheets each week after an analysis is done of their requirements. They work remotely with tutors through the platform. After completing a written assignment, they upload photos of their work and receive written feedback.
Co-founder Padraic Hogan says JumpAGrade works with students all over the country.
"In a remote area, students might not have opportunities to take grinds. We see this service as complementing the work of teachers."
Katie Ní Cheallacháin, an Irish and history teacher from Cork taking a year out living in Vancouver, is one of the tutors working for the website. She works with up to five students per week from her base in Canada.
"There are significant benefits in this system for the students," says Ní Cheallacháin. "They are receiving one-to-one personalised and detailed feedback, advice and direction. They can complete their worksheet at a time that suits them, fitting it in around the rest of their schoolwork."
When broadband arrived in Ireland, it was widely expected that online video classes would prove popular. In this brave new world, students would log on to a class and interact with a teacher. Brendan Guildea, who has given grinds in a number of different formats, says interactive video classes are limited in their effectiveness.
"I remember giving a free online class for higher level Junior Cert and 29 kids were signed up to it. I asked the audience a multiple choice question, where they ticked a box online, but nobody got the right answer.
"After the class, I found out only four people ticked the box. What were the other people doing? They were not paying attention. Kids can just mess around when it's online.
"Parents know that in a class kids are not doing that. That's why the classes continue to be popular."