New maths entry requirements for teachers to end marking anomaly
New maths requirements for entry to primary teaching training, due to be announced soon, should end the anomaly that left some high-achieving school-leavers out of the running for a course place this year.
Controversy erupted over the failure to recognise a new H7 grade - a mark of 30-39pc, on a higher level paper - as a minimum entry requirement for primary teaching courses.
This is despite the fact that the H7 is deemed to be of the same standard as 70-79pc on an ordinary level paper, which is an O3 under the new grading arrangements.
An O3 is three grades higher than an O6 (40-49pc) and, bizarrely, an O6 is acceptable, because the Department of Education has not updated the entry rules to align with the changes to grading system.
Not allowing the H7 goes against the spirit of the reforms to the Leaving Cert and CAO this year, a key focus of which is to encourage students to study at "honours" level, without a penalty if they do not achieve 40pc, a H6 in the new regime.
While third-level colleges generally decide on minimum entry requirements for their courses, the Department of Education retains authority to set the standards for primary teacher training.
A department spokesperson said last night that the decision last year to continue the existing minimum maths entry requirement for primary teaching was so as not to disadvantage students who were already in senior cycle. When that decision was conveyed in March 2016, the Leaving Cert candidates who applied to the CAO this year would have been in fifth year.
However, the spokesperson stated that Education Minister Richard Bruton would be making an announcement shortly on future entry requirements.
The spokesperson said that the announcement would take account of advice from the Teaching Council as well as recommendations in last year's report, on what is needed to boost national performance in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem).
The standard of maths required of primary teacher trainees has been under review for years amid a wider debate about national numeracy standards.
The department spokesperson pointed out that the quality of teacher education and the quality of teachers was a key determinant of education outcomes.
The 2011 National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy identified the need to raise standards of achievement in maths, and included proposals to raise the entry requirements in maths primary teacher education programmes over time, which was reinforced in a 2016 review.
In 2012, there was a formal proposal to raise the standards and require all entrants to have higher level maths. Then-education minster Ruairi Quinn drew fire when he was interpreted as blaming primary teachers, a highly feminised profession, for the country's 'average' performance in maths.
Subsequently, a study by the Economic and Social Research Institute cautioned that requiring all entrants to have "honours" maths would reduce the pool of otherwise high-achieving applicants.
The Stem report highlighted the need to raise entry requirements, suggesting it should be done in a "measured fashion", and it is expected that the forthcoming announcement will pave the way for a series of gradual upward movements in entry standards.