Maths to be reviewed as 9pc fail ordinary, more opt for foundation
The teaching and content of second-level maths classes is to come under scrutiny after disappointing Leaving Certificate results.
This year's results saw the return of a 9pc failure rate among ordinary-level maths students, as well a big jump in the number of pupils opting to take the more basic foundation-level paper.
Education Minister Richard Bruton has reacted with a request to the Chief State Examiner for maths to look at where the problems lie for students.
In a further development, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) is also preparing to review the Project Maths syllabus, now that it has finished its first full six-year cycle in schools.
The worrying outcomes for weaker maths students took the gloss off the continuing growth in uptake in higher-level maths, with 28pc of students taking the 'honours' paper - up from just 16pc five years ago.
Mr Bruton said that while it was heartening to see the ongoing rise in uptake for higher level, he was concerned about what was happening at the other end of the spectrum.
The minister referred to major reports into maths performances at both Leaving and Junior Certificate, carried out by the Chief Examiner last year, which pointed to difficulties with algebra and trigonometry, and said he would ask him to take a "fresh look".
Mr Bruton said they would have to tease through the issues that gave rise to the increase in numbers opting for foundation level, rather than ordinary level, this year.
Maths, he said, was fundamental to a lot of choices that people might want to make, adding: "We'll have to look at both the curriculum and teaching to ensure that the system is allowing students to achieve their full potential."
Meanwhile, the NCCA is already planning to review the impact of Project Maths, now that the first cohort of students to have studied the syllabus all the way through second-level school have done the Leaving Certificate. The review, which will include research, is due to start later this year and may lead to some adjustments in the syllabus.
Project Maths involves a different approach to teaching the subject, other than traditional methods, and the maths teaching community has been divided about its value.
Meanwhile, hi-tech companies welcomed the increase in the number of students taking higher level maths and science subjects generally.
Cook Medical, one of the world's largest privately held medical technology companies, which is based in Limerick, said the trends were encouraging and hugely beneficial for the medtech sector, which employs more than 29,000 people across 400 companies in Ireland.
Cook Medical Europe vice president (human resources) Alice O'Dwyer said the continued development of the sector required graduates with strong skills across all disciplines, particularly science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
She added: "Not only do these graduates assure Ireland's place as a major exporter of medical technology, they also ensure Ireland can remain at the forefront of major advances in the field."
EMC, the IT multinational that employs 3,000 in Ireland, said the results were clear evidence that the second-level school system was succeeding in placing emphasis on STEM.
EMC Ireland chief Bob Savage said Government and industry must continue to work together to provide solutions to Ireland's ongoing STEM skills shortage.