Fears for economy as more pupils fail maths

More than one tenth of all Leaving Certificate pupils have failed a maths paper, raising concerns over the future of the country’s economy.

Approximately 10% did not make the grade, prompting Fine Gael and leading business group Ibec to warn the falling figures were a disturbing trend and a sign the Government’s education policies were making little impact.

Of 8,510 candidates who sat the honours paper in the core subject, 4.5% failed compared to 3.8% last year while the numbers failing the ordinary level rose to 12.3%, up from 11.5% last year.

Of the 5,803 pupils who opted to sit the foundation level, 5.7% failed.

Fine Gael education spokesman Brian Hayes warned the low uptake of the higher-level paper was a serious concern.

“Fianna Fáil-led governments have shown themselves unwilling or unable to proceed with the reforms that are needed to tackle these problems,” he said.

“To compete internationally, Ireland needs high levels of achievement in science and technology and, to realise this, a sea change in how we teach, how we resource and how we deal with these courses is needed.”

ICT Ireland, the Ibec group that represents the hi-tech sector, raised concerns with the consistently low numbers choosing to sit the higher-level maths paper.

In honours level maths, some 7.4% gained an A1 – the same as last year – and 6.9% scoring an A2, down from 8.2%.

Director Kathryn Raleigh said maths and science were more important than ever for students’ future success.

“Maths opens the door to many exciting opportunities in the technology sector,” she said.

“For the past number of years the high failure rate in maths and the small numbers choosing to take higher level has made the headlines.

“It is time to stop posturing and tackle the problem head on. Radical solutions must be introduced immediately.”

The sciences showed more interest from pupils with the numbers sitting biology, chemistry and physics up almost 1,000 on last year.

But while the amount achieving the highest possible A1 or A2 grades was high - 16-24% – the number of pupils failing to make the grade also increased.

Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe asked students to think carefully about choosing courses in the science, engineering and technology sectors.

“These areas offer qualifications which are in high demand with good career prospects and they are critically important in supporting the growth of high-value knowledge-based industries in Ireland,” the minister said.

“The range of options available for students leaving school this year is enormous and, between third-level courses and the vast array of PLC and other education and training opportunities, there is something out there for everyone.

“Overall, I am happy to see that the results and trends are on a par with previous years.”

In the higher level biology paper 16.6% achieved A grade, a drop of more than 2% on the previous year. Almost 9% failed the higher level paper, a slight increase on 2007.

In chemistry, 23.5% reached the A grade standard at the higher level, but the numbers who failed the notoriously difficult paper again showed a slight increase on last year.

Fewer pupils took physics, but the marks were strong with just under a fifth securing A1 or A2 grades. Some 8.6% failed higher level, a jump of more than 1% on 2007.

Mr Hayes said he feared sciences were being squeezed out of the senior cycle with the numbers taking physics decreasing since last year and those taking chemistry only marginally up.

“Second level students need to have access to modern laboratories and advanced technologies and need to engage directly with practising scientists,” he added.

Some 55,589 anxious Leaving Certificate students were today waiting to collect their results from secondary schools across the country or online.

The total included 71 pupils who sat the exam in Libya. Since 1997, students at the ISM international school in Tripoli have taken the Leaving, with Arabic being substituted for Irish.

English results were similar to the last two years although down slightly for those sitting the toughest papers.

Out of 31,792 pupils who sat the higher level exam, just over 10% achieved A1 or A2, a drop of less than half a per cent on 2006 and 2007.

Despite the small fall, of the 49,382 pupils who sat all the English papers only 4.8% failed to make the grade.

There was an 8% fail rate in Irish but the numbers hitting top grades also increased.

A1 or A2 grades in the higher paper accounted for 13.1% of students, up 8% on last year’s figure of 12.3%.

Almost 50,000 of all candidates were school-leavers, while 4,101 external candidates and 1,778 repeat students are adult re-entrants.

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