EDUCATION Minister Noel Dempsey last night rejected calls for bonus points for science in the Leaving Cert as a way of encouraging a greater take-up of these subjects by students.
The call was made by the employers' body IBEC, which claimed there was an ongoing decline in the numbers taking science-related subjects as well as increased failure rates in some of these disciplines.
But the minister strongly denied the claims and also opposed bonus points for the subjects in the Leaving.
He said that bonus points had been ruled out by the Points Commission. If they were introduced for science, there would be calls for their introduction for other subjects, he said.
And there was no guarantee that students who got bonus points would automatically use their Leaving Cert results to get into science-related disciplines at third level; they could just as easily go into law or medicine or some other area, he said.
The minister accepted that people were needed for the "knowledge-based economy" but suggested our success to date was based on the fact that the education system turned out well-rounded individuals who had taken a broad education.
He also suggested that industry itself needed to do more to get the message across about well-paid careers in the sciences and that it should not be up to schools, guidance counsellors or the minister alone.
He said that the results for both maths and sciences showed some improvements this year. For instance:
* A grades in ordinary level maths are up five per cent;
* Failure rates in ordinary level maths have remained the same at 11.5pc but are still 3pc lower than in 2002;
* At higher level the A grades are up on the past two years, as are the combined A, B and C grades.
Turning to biology, he said the patterns at both levels were broadly in line with recent years, while in physics, the A and B rates were at their highest levels for a number of years.
In chemistry, while the A grade at higher level was down from 26pc to 22.8pc the overall A B C rate was comparable to previous years, he said.
At ordinary level, there were fewer A grades but this could be because more students were transferring to higher level. He said that the number of candidates taking chemistry in the Leaving had increased to 7,229.
Opposition parties called on the Minister to provide increased funding for science labs in all schools as a means of encouraging greater participation in science.
"There will have to be an evaluation of any role that science teaching might have in instilling in students a love of science and a minimum level of proficiency in the sciences," Labour's Jan O'Sullivan said.
"Mr Dempsey cannot let another year go by without taking some action to deal with this issue," she added.