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Points race JUST d oesn't add up

MY eldest has just started secondary school, and he's loving it. He's been auditioning for the school play, trying out different sports, even working on an idea for the Young Scientists' Exhibition.

Every now and then, when he needs it, I mother him, delighted to have a role in his life again.

But then he's back on his bike, pedalling frantically to school, his poorly knotted tie flying in the wind.

I was looking forward to the school's Annual General Meeting this week. I wanted to find out as much as I could about the place which is going to have such a huge impact on my son's life.

What I got, instead, was an audit of the school's performance in this year's Leaving Certificate.

And by 'performance', I mean points. The points that get you into university.

Points. Points. Points. That's what we heard about. How many kids got maximum points. As compared with the previous year and the year before.

Not to be compared with the vintage year of 20-whatever when maximum points were got by maximum kids.

All right, not every kid can be a maximum kid. Let's look at averages. How many points did the kids get, on average? Was it a good year? Could it be called a vintage year?

And even if some kids got fewer points than that again, could they scrape into college? I mean, could they get into UCD to do arts?


Yes they could! Mammies and daddies -- relax! Because hardly any kids in this school did badly enough not to get into UCD!

I started looking nervously round the auditorium. How would it feel to be the parent of one of the kids who didn't go to college? A kid who'd got a job, or started a business or gone into a trade? A kid who was being written out of history?

But no-one looked uneasy. One man was even taking notes. He looked like he was putting the school's points averages on a pie chart so he could gaze at it in quiet moments and think: my kid will go to UCD.

The kid might not like UCD. The kid might not have the faintest interest in going to college. The kid might want to be a professional surfer or a lion tamer.

Forget about it. Three years' hard labour in the groves of academe for you, sunshine.

Because what scares the middle-class mammies and daddies all over Ireland more than anything is that their kid might not go to college.

They are not interested in the kids who want to start businesses or travel the world or get a trade. They are interested in points. With the result that our secondary schools are more and more like sausage factories, stuffing all the kids with the same filling and turning them out the same size.

Well, change is a-coming. There are plans to make the Junior Certificate much more about the process of learning, much less about churning out facts.

The news was greeted with white faces all round my kid's school's AGM. A cry went up -- please don't touch the Leaving!

But it looks like that might happen too. Employers have started complaining that there isn't much sizzle left in the kids who come out of our sausage factories.

A report by a former Vice President of UCD says our secondary school kids spend too much time focusing on exams. She says the points race is wrecking the kids' education.

She suggests awarding college places by lottery. Or maybe a "weighted" lottery -- you'd be entered for courses for which you had aptitude.

What, no points race? But what would kids do at school? And what would parents talk about? And what would they discuss at school AGMs?

I've got a radical suggestion: education.