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Bonus points fuel the switch to honours maths

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Some students will be jumping for joy when they get their Junior Cert results today

Some students will be jumping for joy when they get their Junior Cert results today

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The swing to honours maths continues to grow, with a record number of Junior Certificate students taking the higher level paper this year.

As many as 54pc of Junior Cert candidates opted for "honours" in the June exams, up from 52pc last year and up from 46pc three years ago.

While the total number of candidates for the Junior Cert rose by less than 1pc, the percentage taking the higher level paper increased by over 5pc when compared with last year.

Today, the 60,327 in the Junior Cert class of 2014 receive their results, including four who achieved 12As at higher or common level. Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan led the congratulations to the class of 2014, their parents and teachers.

The increase in Junior Cert candidates, from 59,822 last year, reflects the rise in enrolments in second-level schools, which is set to continue for about a decade. The figures are up from 56,841 in 2011.

The steady surge in interest in higher level maths has been widely attributed to the introduction of 25 bonus points for CAO applicants who achieve a minimum D grade in the subject in the Leaving Cert.

The trend was immediately obvious in the Leaving Cert after the 25 bonus points were introduced in 2012. Today's figures show that an increasing number of younger students are thinking ahead and making sure that they have the necessary foundation for higher level study when they reach fifth year.

The roll-out of the new Project Maths syllabus has also been seen as a factor in encouraging students to raise their sights, but the striking change in higher level uptake came after the introduction of bonus points.

At Junior Cert level, there was a 25pc jump in the number of students opting for honours since 2011 - up from 25,554 to 32,041 this year.

This year, 14,326 Leaving Cert students - 27pc of all maths candidates - sat higher level, up from 8,237 in 2011.

Government, business and industry want more students to study honours maths so that school-leavers and graduates have the necessary skills for further study, and jobs in the modern workplace.

While not all school-leavers and college applicants need higher level maths, more students are showing that they don't want to run the risk of being left behind in the points race for third-level education.

In the first two years, the bonus points contributed to a rise in points for many courses in areas closely linked to maths, such as technology, engineering and science.

However, this year, with so many more students now doing higher level, the bonus effect rippled through to higher CAO cut-off points for popular business courses, for which demand has also grown.

Today's results also show that it is not only ordinary-level students who are aiming higher by opting for honours maths.

Overall, there was a reduction of 640 in the numbers taking ordinary level maths, but that masks an upward drift to ordinary level from foundation level, which saw a 369 decrease in candidates this year.

One of the effects of students aiming higher, at all levels, is a reduction in the proportion of those who achieve the highest grades, as the top end from each group moves up.

Maths is not the only subject where students are aiming higher, with a continuing trend of greater uptake in "honours" papers generally.

This year, 75pc of Junior Cert English candidates opted for higher level, compared with 73pc last year, and 70pc in 2011

While exemptions from Irish reduced the number taking the subject, to 52,801 of candidates, the proportion of those taking the subject at higher level is growing.

This year, 54pc of students sat honours Irish, up from 49pc three years ago. This has been attributed to a change in 2010 and the introduction of 40pc of total marks for an optional, school-based oral exam.

A similar initiative at Leaving Cert has also resulted in increased uptake in higher level.

n See Education: page 24

n Junior Cert students speak - see Features: page 42


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