Thursday 20 June 2019

Number of students sitting Leaving Cert surges to highest level in 15 years thanks to Millennium 'baby boom'

Photo: Stock image
Photo: Stock image
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Leaving Cert candidate numbers have surged to their highest level in 15 years, with a hike in ambitious students planning to sit subjects at "honours" level.

The baby boom children from the turn of the millennium are now reaching the end of their school years, meaning entries are up 3pc.

The annual State exams kick off tomorrow with a total of 59,656 entered for the Leaving Cert, including 2,774 who are taking the alternative programme, the Leaving Cert Applied (LCA).

The increase in candidate numbers, combined with the trend of students aiming higher, is likely to see pressure on points across a range of popular CAO courses this year. Much will depend on demand when the CAO change of mind facility closes in July.

The trend is replicated at Junior Cert where 64,723 students are entered for exams, also up almost 3pc from 2018.

This year sees significant changes to the Leaving Cert, including an extra two sitting days to accommodate additional subjects.

Game changer: Rebecca Carter case led to quicker process. Photo: Damien Eagers
Game changer: Rebecca Carter case led to quicker process. Photo: Damien Eagers

Also, for the first time, candidates who suffer a close bereavement will have the option of taking three days off and sitting some exams in July.

Online marking is also being introduced for a number of subjects and, within three years, the State Examinations Commission (SEC) expects that the majority of subjects at both Leaving Cert and Junior Cert/Cycle will be marked in this way. While online marking is expected to minimise or eliminate the potential for totting errors, the SEC is still facing a shortage of teachers to mark papers.

The SEC website continues to advertise for examiners Leaving Cert business, English, geography, French, German, home economics and Spanish, and Junior Cycle CSPE, Irish, geography, German, history, home economics, mathematics, religious education, science and Spanish.

The Leaving Cert results will also be issued a day earlier than usual, on Tuesday, August 13, and there is tighter schedule around appealing results and the release of the outcomes of appeals.

This arises from the High Court ruling in the Rebecca Carter case last year, in which the judge ordered that the process be speeded up.

There is a knock-on effect on the release of Junior Cert/ Cycle results, which will be released at the end of September, rather than the middle of the month.

SEC figures indicate that, overall, 71pc of individual papers will be taken at higher level, although on the day of the exam students may change their minds about what level they sit.

A steady increase in uptake in higher level gathered momentum in 2017 with the change in the grading system that allows for CAO points to be awarded for a mark of between 30-39pc on an "honours" paper level, for which previously no points were granted.

But while the continuing "aiming higher" trend is evident across many subjects, they do not include Irish, where only about 50pc of candidates are planning to sit the "honours" paper.

That is out of a relatively small pool of 86pc of Leaving Cert candidates. Despite its status as a compulsory subject, many students are awarded an exemption, either because of a learning difficulty or because of the amount of time they have spent in the Irish education system.

Meanwhile, about 37pc of Leaving Cert candidates have indicated they will sit higher level maths, broadly similar to last year, and even with a likely fall-off on the day, the final figure should be about double the level before the introduction of CAO bonus points in 2012.

This year, 1,800 candidates will be examined in 18 non-curricular language subjects, such as Croatian, Estonia, Slovakian, Lithuanian and Portuguese.

The state exams are a major logistical exercise and more than four million exam papers have been distributed to exam superintendents around the country. The exams will be held in some 5,200 centres.

As well as the main centres, there will be many more "special centres" to accommodate students with special needs. Last year, there were 9,330 such centres, catering for 18,642 candidates - 15pc of all candidates - who needed supports such as a scribe or a tape recorder to allow them to sit the exams, a figure which has grown steadily over the years.

SEC chairman Pat Burke extended best wishes to candidates and said the commission would "continue its work in ensuring the examinations meet the highest standards of fairness and transparency".

Irish Independent

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