Thursday 26 April 2018

Call for reform as maths and science grades drop yet again

The An Post team in
Athlone sorting Leaving
Certificate letters yesterday
The An Post team in Athlone sorting Leaving Certificate letters yesterday

Katherine Donnelly and Breda Heffernan

LEAVING Cert maths and science results are as bad or worse than last year. And there is even disappointment about how top students are faring with the new project maths, which was supposed to lead to better performance.

Another year of poor maths and science grades has triggered demands from employer organisations for better teaching as well as changes in the curriculum.

A recent survey showed that only half of second-level maths teachers are qualified for the job. Principals told the University of Limerick survey that they found it difficult to recruit qualified maths teachers. This is probably because those who have the necessary expertise choose a career in industry.

Older teachers were more likely to be qualified -- only 40pc of the teachers aged 35 or under had a teaching qualification in maths compared to 65pc of those over the age of 35.

Both American multinationals and Irish businesses last night expressed their concerns about maths and science, key subjects for jobs in the modern economy.

Today's results bring huge disappointment for students who will miss out on a college place because they don't have a good enough grade in maths.Almost 4,300 of the 51,991 Leaving Cert maths candidates failed, and are now automatically excluded from many science, engineering and technology third-level courses.

Most worrying among the fail statistics is the stubborn 10pc -- 3,712 -- of ordinary level students who got an E or below.

There is also much concern about how maths students at the upper end of the scale are doing. In the first instance, this year saw a continuing decline in numbers taking higher-level maths -- down to 8,327 from over 10,000 a decade ago.

Less than 16pc of maths candidates are taking the subject at higher level, and employers say it should be 30pc. On top of that, the proportion of higher-level students achieving an A1 dropped this year to 5.7pc, from 7.5pc last year.

Among students in the 24 Project Maths pilot schools, it was even worse, with only 4.4pc achieving an A1. There were also complaints about the exam this year from Project Maths schools. Failure rates in higher-level physics and higher-level chemistry also rose, to 7pc and 8.6pc respectively.

Joanne Richardson, chief executive of the American Chamber of Commerce, representing over 600 US firms in Ireland, said deficits in maths and the sciences pointed to a need for a continuous review of how they were taught.

She warned that Ireland's average standing in the OECD PISA international maths league tables among 15-year-olds would continue to disimprove and called for renewed focus on the teaching of maths at all levels.

Calling for change she said: "The education system can no longer wait for incremental reform, and any reform must be aligned to the needs of industry and economic development."

The employers' organisation IBEC also called for major reform of the Leaving Cert and points system. Tony Donohoe, IBEC's head of education policy, noted that the proportion of students taking higher-level maths was significantly out of line with other subjects.

"Teaching quality is a critical issue," he said. "Exam results from the 24 pilot schools show that top grades are not easily achieved."

Irish Independent

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