Ambitious students are aiming ever higher in the Leaving Cert as the race for a college place intensifies.
As almost 59,000 Leaving Cert candidates get their results today, the figures show an ongoing rise in the number of papers being taken at higher level.
Among those celebrating will be five students who achieved 8 H1s, followed by 56 with 7 H1s. One of the subjects where the take-up of “honours” papers is noteworthy is maths, where 33pc of candidates sat higher level, double what it was in 2011.
Overall, 68.4pc of exam papers were higher level, up from 66.3pc two years ago, reflecting a trend to encourage students to stretch themselves. But the drive for points is a big factor, borne out in CAO figures showing an above-average rise in demand for honours degrees, against a drop for courses leading to lower qualifications.
Students have been attracted towards higher level by changes to the grading system in 2017, which means candidates achieving between 30pc-39pc at higher level qualify for CAO points, which was not previously the case.
Education Minister Joe McHugh led the congratulations but advised that while the Leaving Cert was another step through life there were “many more days and changes that will define your future”.
It was a year of big change in the Leaving Cert including, for the first time, a facility for candidates who suffered a close bereavement during the exams to sit alternative papers in July, and up to 40 students availed of that opportunity.
Other changes have seen the release of the results brought forward by a day, along with earlier publication of CAO offers. The new timeline follows a High Court action last year by Co Wexford Leaving Cert 2018 candidate Rebecca Carter who successfully appealed a result but was advised that even if she was successful it would not happen in time for her to enrol in her top CAO choice, veterinary.
The judge ordered the process be tightened up, leading to appeal outcomes being delivered three weeks earlier.
This year also saw the introduction of online marking in six subjects. Mr McHugh said the faster offers and appeals would help to ease the levels of anxiety experienced around this time. He said along with the option of July sittings for a candidate who lost a close relative in June, “they put the best interests and wellbeing of students first. I would like to thank the SEC for its work in implementing these measures and for ensuring the smooth running of the examinations once again”.
According to the State Examinations Commission (SEC) the results this year are broadly in line with previous years. Notwithstanding the growth in uptake in higher-level maths, there will be dismay at the “fail” rates in the subject. Among ordinary level candidates the number achieving less than 40pc rose to 10.9pc, up from 7.5pc last year. This may not be surprising as it is stronger students who tend to make the leap to higher level, leaving a weaker cohort behind.
At higher level, 7.2pc achieved less than 40pc – a marginal improvement on 7.5pc last year – although most of those scored between 30-39pc, a H7, so will qualify for points, and the grade is acceptable for many courses.
There was a slight increase in the number of students sitting the Irish exam, up from 85pc last year to 86pc. While Irish is compulsory to study, students do not have to sit the exam in it, and candidate numbers have slipped over the years. Many will have received exemptions in the subject, a figure that may increase over time, in light of changes to the exemptions regime announced this week.
School managers and teacher unions were among those sending congratulations to students. John Curtis, general secretary of the Joint Managerial Body (JMB) representing secondary schools, said it was inevitable there would be disappointment, and it was a time to “be sensitive, listen and talk, and help in every way that we can”.
He said today and in the weeks ahead staff would be available to students in schools to assist them in looking at and considering the options that might be available to them, “and we would urge that those students uncertain or unsure as to how to now proceed would talk and seek advice and take what time they can in deciding next steps”.
Deirdre MacDonald, president of the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI) said students should remain calm in the days and weeks ahead so that they could explore all of their options and make sound decisions.
Teachers’ Union of Ireland president Seamus Lahart said learning and education was a lifelong pursuit and there had never been more avenues open to pursue a chosen course and career. He said students should strongly consider apprenticeship options across an ever-expanding range of areas, along with the wide breadth of choices in further education/Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) colleges.