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Sinead Ryan: With the results out, the debate about the points system is raging again. Mary Coughlan thinks the system doesn't need an overhaul. Is the Minister right?

I HAD the flu the day of my honours physics exam. Wretchedly I attempted the questions as I sniffled into a growing pile of tissues, dosed up with vitamin C feeling dizzy and miserable. The 'D' I was awarded bore little relation to my ability as a result, so I didn't get the points for the science degree I wanted to do. Did it change the course of my life? Undoubtedly. Did it matter? The jury's still out.

Nothing has changed since my day in terms of how students are judged -- the Leaving Cert remains essentially a memory test, wholly dependent on how you are feeling for those three hours you are being tested, despite six years of academia. It's a lousy system and people -- not least students themselves -- have quite rightly called for change. The Minister for Education -- the latest in a long line -- has said she is no more for turning than any of her predecessors, curtly dismissing even a discussion about it by claiming the current system is the "fairest" around.

Hardly, minister. But the alternative is an unspoken expensive option, which is the real reason no change is imminent. Continuous assessment is actually much fairer; it is more balanced and allows for the odd day with the flu, granny's death, a missed bus or any of the other myriad things that can throw a student off course temporarily. It allows for testing in a modular format rather than two or three years of work crammed into one paper.

There's an argument for saying that stress is good and students should experience it early and often as a preparation for working life -- a point Mary Coughlan made this week.


However, nowhere in life is your next opportunity or promotion dependent on a three-hour stint in a room writing until your hand drops off. In real life, workers are adjudged on a "continuous assessment" method of merit, ability and experience.

But while our current finances don't appear to even allow the conversation, a second-best option could be point-weighting. If we're serious about our 'smart economy', then extra points for honours science and maths should be compulsory. At present an A1 in home economics or religion gets the same points as an A1 in maths -- irrespective of the extra workload that subject requires. Savvy students may well wonder why bother? Well, only 16pc of students took higher maths at all this year, so while they mightn't be getting 600 points, they ain't stupid.

Ms Coughlan is 'hopeful' third-level colleges will agree to a bonus points system. What part of being in charge of the education system is she missing? Ultimately continuous assessment is the investment we really ought to be making for future generations. We would miss the whoops of delight for the front pages of newspapers, but then again, we'd be spared the anguish and howls of dismay too -- the 'final' results would cease to be a shock or surprise.

A 'D' for effort and time for the Government to do its homework.