Coughlan: points race here to stay
Grade spiral levels off, results show
EDUCATION Minister Mary Coughlan yesterday ruled out changes to the hugely pressurised points system for college entry as almost 58,000 students prepared to get their Leaving Certificate results.
Today's results show a continuing reining in of grade inflation that had become a pattern since the early 1990s.
Against a rise in the number of Leaving Certificate candidates this year, the number achieving four A1s or more is down on 2009 and there has been a slight dip in the percentage gaining the maximum 600 points.
Despite a major study showing huge stress levels among students caught up in the third-level points race, Ms Coughlan bluntly said pressure was a "harsh reality" of life and declared the current system was the "fairest way".
Just days ago, Professor Tom Collins, chairman of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), said it was time "to rethink the points system".
But Ms Coughlan's comments appeared to be an effort to stifle any debate. She said: "The harsh reality of life is that, over your lifetime, you will always have pressure. The situation is that the Leaving Certificate was examined in 1999, when we looked at the issue of points.
"It was decided that there could be consideration of another type of opportunity but that, clearly, the most transparent and fairest was the Leaving Certificate and the points we have."
The results this year show that in English there was a levelling off in A and B grades, while there was a decline in the proportion of top grades in other big subjects such as maths and Irish.
Ms Coughlan led congratulations to all students and said they should be proud of their achievements. She urged students and parents to carefully consider the options available and to seek advice if uncertain.
A breakdown of the 2010 results shows that the new approach to teaching maths at second level, in which the first exams were taken by 1,800 students in 24 schools in June, has produced some promising results.
Ms Coughlan welcomed the "encouraging start" to the Project Maths initiative, with an increase to 18.5pc in the proportion of students taking higher level in Project Maths schools, compared with 16pc nationally, and a lower fail rate of 5.4pc compared with almost 10pc nationally.
There is also a concern at government and industry level about keeping up participation and performance in science to ensure a ready supply of school-leavers and graduates with the necessary skills for the 'smart economy'.
Ms Coughlan welcomed further increases in the number of students taking chemistry and biology, although participation in physics was down 0.4pc to 12.4pc this year. Engineering and technology have also had increases in participation rates at higher level.
She also referred to her hope that third-level colleges would agree to the introduction on bonus points for higher-level maths for college entry from 2012 and urged students entering senior cycle to take this into account when making their Leaving Certificate subject choices.
The 2010 Leaving Cert was also marked by a controversy when candidates in some centres received the accounting higher level paper with pages missing.
Ms Coughlan said that having read a report from the State Examination Commission, there was no evidence it impacted negatively on the candidates concerned.
Students can access their examination results online at www.examinations.ie from midday, quoting their Personal Identification Number and examination number.
Meanwhile, the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) welcomed Prof Collins's call for reform.
Prof Collins said there was a need to rethink the points system because it was causing students to cram for the exam in order to get into college.
It followed in-depth research by the Economic and Social Research Institute showing that more than half of female sixth-year pupils and a third of males felt under constant strain and many were losing sleep worrying about the exam and getting into college.
NAPD director Clive Byrne said: "We urgently need to adapt the exam system so we can assess all the children of the nation equally.
"For many students, a terminal exam such as the Leaving Certificate does nothing other than act as a measure of failure.
"It's a case of the third-level tail wagging the second-level dog and we need to decouple the final school certification from third-level entry."