Betty McLaughlin: Points for 30-39pc will be a fitting reward for effort
The awarding of CAO points to students who achieve 30pc-39pc on a higher level paper will be a fitting reward for work done and effort made during the course of their studies.
As educationalists, we would love to see more of our students opting for higher level papers - and the demands of critical and analytical higher order thinking which such study entails.
These skills are so essential in equipping our young people for successful outcomes in higher education courses and in coping with life's challenges.
Up to now, a 39pc score on a higher level paper meant a student got zero CAO points. A 40pc score, only one percentage point more, would mean 45 CAO points for that student. Surely, this is an unnecessary stress, and a deterrent for students considering taking higher level papers.
Similarly, it is unfair that a student achieving 39pc at higher level gets no points, while a student scoring 40pc at ordinary level gets five points.
By awarding points for achieving 30pc-39pc on higher level papers, we will be incentivising students to take a more measured risk.
We would expect that another positive outcome will be the impact on student stress. We have seen much evidence of the undue stress levels experienced by students in second level, particularly girls, as a result of research carried out by the ESRI in the past decade or more. Much of the stress is attributed to the exam system and college entry process.
It is important to see the changes in the grading system and the CAO points scale, including awarding points for 30pc-39pc, as part of a wider package of reforms around the Leaving Certificate and the transition to third level.
These reforms also include a commitment to broader entry routes to college, which will allow students to put off decisions about specialisation until later in their studies.
More generic entry routes should also have the effect of dampening down the high points levels that are often associated with niche courses.
We have 1,400 courses in the CAO handbook, 925 at Level 8 and 472 at Level 6/7. Students entering third level from schools, colleges, and from adult education settings, need the support of guidance counsellors to traverse this bewildering array of options.
Information on the reformed grade bands and the implications for college applications will be required by students.
Regrettably, this welcome package of reforms around the transition from second to third level coincides with cuts to guidance counselling, resulting in a 60pc reduction in time available for one-to-one counselling for students.
The guidance counselling core educational support service, built up over 30 years, has been seriously dismantled as a result of the 2012 austerity measure.
Research findings from the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, the ESRI, the Association of Secondary Teachers' Ireland, the Teachers Union of Ireland and the National Centre for Guidance in Education have shown the deleterious impact of the cuts. The changes currently envisioned are welcome - but must be adequately resourced by the provision of guidance counselling support.
As we approach the centenary of 1916, we have the wonderful opportunity to support, encourage and value the right of all the children of the State equally in reaching their potential by providing the essential support of a fully resourced guidance counselling service.
Betty McLaughlin is president of the Institute of Guidance Councillors