Tuesday 23 January 2018

Anger as maths 'anomaly' means some pupils fail to make CAO grade

  • New grading system affects aspiring primary teachers' eligibility for entry
  • Mixed message to aspiring teachers with grade requirements
  • This year’s changes led to a number of revisions in entry requirements
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Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Aspiring primary teachers with high points will be angry over how the new grading system affects their eligibility for entry to their dream courses.

An anomaly in the maths requirement for entry to their chosen profession could dash the hopes of Leaving Cert candidates who have achieved at the highest level.

Traditionally, applicants for primary teaching needed a minimum 40pc, an old D3, in maths at either higher or ordinary level to meet the minimum requirement for their course.

Applicants for all CAO courses have to meet minimum entry requirements for subjects and grades before points even come into the equation.

While that has not changed, it contradicts a key selling point in the revised exam grading system and CAO points scale, implemented this year.

In the new regime, Leaving Cert candidates are awarded 37 points for a H7 – a grade of between 30-39pc at higher level, in any paper.

This was because for the first time, they were told that a grade of 30-39pc at higher level equated to an O3 at ordinary level, which represents the equivalent of 70-79pc. 

Under the changes, the H7 is being accepted on many courses where a “pass” at either higher or ordinary level is required, such as science in NUI Galway.

However, in terms of entry requirements for primary teacher applicants, the H7 in maths is not being treated as an O3. But ironically, a lower level O6 – which is a 40-49pc grade – is acceptable. 

One angry father who contacted the Irish Independent said: “My daughter has 530 points. She has a H7 in honours maths. We were celebrating her great achievement until we realised that this was not acceptable for entry. Can this be correct, as the college is effectively saying that an O6 is a greater academic achievement than a H7?”

Third-level colleges set the entry requirements for all courses, but the Department of Education retains control for deciding what an applicant for primary teaching must have.

This year’s changes led to a number of revisions in entry requirements to align with the new grading bands. As these were being worked out, the department wrote to universities and colleges setting out the maths requirement.

There was controversy some years ago over whether primary teachers should have a minimum pass in higher-level maths, a new H6, to enter a course. That idea was dropped, and an ordinary-level grade is acceptable – but while an O6 is allowed, what is now deemed to be the equivalent of an O3 is not.

A central focus of the changes in the system was to encourage more Leaving Certificate candidates to sit “honours” papers, and that certainly worked this year. There were increases in uptake in almost all subjects, including maths.

But it seems that the message to aspiring primary teachers is that it may be safer to stick with ordinary level – and even aim for the minimum O6, rather  than stretching themselves and running the risk of an unacceptable H7.

Read more: CAO Offers: All your questions answered by the experts

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