Coughlan to introduce Leaving Cert bonus points in 2012

Bonus points for better grades in Leaving Certificate maths could be introduced in two years, Tánaiste and minister for Education Mary Coughlan revealed today.

Amid renewed calls for radical reform of the way the subject is taught, the Education Minister said universities supported the move to secure better grades across the board and improve uptake at the higher level.

Almost 58,000 nervous Leaving Certificate students received their results, with a worrying 10% failure rate in ordinary level maths.

In total, more than 4,000 students failed at different levels of the exam.

Mrs Coughlan said the new Project Maths – a pilot scheme in 24 schools – would be rolled out across the country.

“I believe from the very tentative results that we have seen thus far that it is the most appropriate way in which we can encourage more young people to take higher level mathematics,” she said.

“Equally I would reiterate my view, and I have to say it’s been listened to by the universities, that we would be in a position to introduce additional bonus points in 2012 for higher education mathematics.

“I think that would entice and encourage our young people to make that very difficult decision of spending a considerable amount more time doing higher level mathematics.”

In science subjects – an area the Government has been keen to promote to kickstart the economy – chemistry students struggled with an overall failure rate of 8%, more than 2,000 pupils failed ordinary and higher biology while top results in physics dipped for the second year in a row after several years’ progress.

Labour’s education spokesman Ruairi Quinn said reform of maths and science education has never been more necessary.

“There is a need for a fundamental reform of the maths syllabus at higher, ordinary and foundation level so that students can choose their level based on aptitude, rather than a pressure for points or fear of failure,” Mr Quinn said.

“The Tanaiste cannot afford to postpone reform for another year.”

Deirdre Clune, Fine Gael’s innovation spokeswoman, said bonus points were urgently required.

“These results in maths, science and business are disappointing, and in some cases there has been a clear deterioration,” Ms Clune said.

“Take-up in honours maths is down, the failure rate is up and the general outcome for science subjects is not what a ’Smart Economy’ demands.”

The State Examinations Commission said results were broadly similar to previous years, with slightly more pupils awarded an A1 in English but fewer getting top marks in Irish.

In physics, the amount of higher paper A1s fell by 1.8% and is now below the 10% mark for the first time since 2003, while the number of A2s jumped by 2.1%.

The amount of A1 chemistry grades fell more significantly this year, down 2.8%, pushing the top results back down to levels last seen in 2007.

The joint physics and chemistry paper saw similar results as last year, with just over 8% securing top marks – while 75 higher and ordinary papers were failed.

The most popular science, biology, with 20,971 students taking the subject, saw a 0.7% increase in the amount of higher level A1s, up to 8.9%.

In engineering – almost as popular as physics – 3% secured A1s while there was an overall failure rate of 4.3%.

In Irish, the A1 rate at higher level fell by 1.2% and failures jumped by half a per cent. Failures at the ordinary level also increased, up about 1% on last year.

In maths, the number of pupils sitting the higher level paper dropped to 8,390, with 7.3% scoring top marks with an A1 grade – up from 6.9% a year earlier – and 7% awarded A2. More than 300 failed the higher level, with a further 3,713 failing to make the grade at ordinary level.

There were big successes in other subjects. For those taking Applied Maths, more than one fifth of the 1,213 students secured an A1 – up 7.4% on the figure for 2009 which had seen the number securing top marks down 4.3% from the previous year.

Director general of Engineers Ireland John Power said a more holistic approach was needed to tackle the issues around maths.

“While the latest figures indicating that the failure rate in higher level maths has gone up by 5.5 % are disappointing, it’s very easy to once again castigate teachers and their ability to teach the subject,” he said.

“Quite clearly, maths teachers must have the requisite expertise to teach maths at all levels. But an Engineers Ireland survey last week of Leaving Certificate maths students showed that 71% at higher level rated their maths teacher as excellent or good.

“What is needed to tackle the maths problem is much greater support for maths teachers in the classroom – and this needs to come, not just from Government but from industry and business also.”

“The preliminary data around Project Maths is encouraging with 18.7% of students taking higher level maths from 24 schools in the pilot programme, compared to 16% among all mathematics candidates.

“However, it will be two to five years before we have any meaningful data on the initiative and with 41% of ordinary level students in the Engineers Ireland survey last week believing that higher level maths is too time consuming, what is needed is greater support for teachers.

“We need to give maths the time it deserves in the classroom.”

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