Some students receiving twice as many maths classes as others
Massive variations in the time that second-level schools devote to maths teaching is putting some pupils at a severe disadvantage.
A new report calls on the Government to end the unfair treatment of students who receive less tuition in the subject than others, by laying down fixed time allocations for maths.
By the time they sit the Junior Cert, some pupils have spent almost twice as long in maths classes as others. The biggest gap is in first year, with some timetabled for 67 hours in the year, while others receive up to 167 hours.
Over the three years of junior cycle, the total difference in tuition time can amount to 211 hours - with the highest allocation, 439 hours, almost double the lowest, 228.
Across fifth and sixth year, the hours devoted to the subject across the system range from 198 to 323. It means that some second-level students may benefit from up to 762 hours maths tuition overall, while others have to get by with 426.
Differences in scheduled class allocations can be further compounded by voluntary classes put on by some teachers.
The disparities are down to factors such as the school attended, the class group a pupil is in, the teacher they have and whether they are doing higher or ordinary level.
But the report published yesterday by EPI-STEM, the National Centre for Stem Education, says that all students should receive the same amount of maths instruction time.
The analysis is the first of its kind in Ireland to offer insights into the allocation of maths tuition time in post-primary schools.
"The overarching finding to emerge from this study is that current arrangements relating to the time allocated to maths masks a significant inequity in the treatment of students at all levels, and across all years," say authors Niamh Meara, of the University of Limerick, and Mark Prendergast, of Trinity College Dublin.
They insist that students "are studying the same syllabi and preparing for the same State examinations and there is no argument to support the variation in instruction time evident in the results of this study".
There are guidelines on the amount of instruction time for maths, but the report calls on the Government to specify a fixed amount of class time to be allocated to all curriculum subjects at second level.
It cites international research findings that the number of hours, days and years that students are formally required to take instruction in a subject has an effect on their academic success.
Although the proportion of time given to maths is on a par with the international average, the relatively short school year in Ireland means that the time allocation is less.