Leaving Cert Results

Here is a quick look at the overall Leaving Cert performance of students taking Economics in the Leaving Cert.  Just over 8% of Leaving Cert students took Economics as a subject.

This year around 3,700 took the Higher Level Paper and it can be seen that the distribution of marks was consistent with the previous two years.    There were 1,063 candidates for the Ordinary Level Paper.

A breakdown of the marks for all 34 Leaving Cert subjects can be seen here.

There were no candidates for Ancient Greek and Hebrew Studies. Of the papers that were taken the lowest number of candidates was the 32 who sat the Higher Level Agricultural Economics paper.  The most attempted paper was the Ordinary Level Maths paper with 37,505 candidates.

The number of students that took the Higher Level Maths Paper did indeed set a record low as was previously discussed here.

48 replies on “Leaving Cert Results”

Higher Level candidates seemed to number:

Irish 14,359
Russian 291
Chinese – had a quick look, doesn’t seem to exist?
Japanese 209
Maths 8,237
Applied Maths 1,274
Physics 4,782
Biology 22,677 !!!?? Wot?
Construction Studies 6,887
Accounting 4,060
Home Economics 8,724

“our National Language” clearly very very important – why waste time on other stuff that is less useful?

Biology: easy to get high grades with rote learning

Given Google and the Www, rote learning is less important than ever

However our primary and secondary syllabuses take decades to change

Ireland would do well to take a look at the South Korean educational system, as that is where the future is

The results are in line because they adjust them to fit the graph. When the teachers correcting the papers are finished correcting them the first time they call up their bosses and give them the numbers of As, Bs & Cs, etc, and their bosses tell them to “find 30 more Cs from the Bs” (or C1s from the B3s). Then when students miss out by 5 points on that course they stand a good chance that on one of their exams they were just knocked down a grade to fit the curve. But the number of re-checks doesn’t really change the curve.

The only way to track the actual deterioration caused by curriculum based education systems, the lack of respect for teachers and the rote learning which results is through international studies on OECD education systems (can’t remember the particular organisation I’m thinking of actually) and through the General Inspector’s 5 year report.

You could also look at how retarded the middle-classes are becoming. There has been a serious deterioration of respect for creative & entrepreneurial attributes & characteristics from the institutionalised herd-animals created largely through rote learning – but thats only anectotal. Excentricity is bemoaned and everything is about certifications professional cartels like hospital consultants & the legal/accountancy industries. Great article about that in FT today actually.

Biology: easy to get high grades with rote learning

It can also be taught without a specialised qualification, and can thus be offered in probably every school in the country.

Meanwhile, Applied Mathematics has only 1,274 students at the higher level. That’s disappointing, but the numbers for Physics(4,782) and Chemistry(6,272) are particularly disappointing. The country cannot have heavy, chemical, or mechanical industries without these subjects.

I note that there is still no computer/IT leaving certificate. In 2011, this is really a bit late in the day for the national secondary curriculum not to have such a course.

There were 8,724 Home Economics students. This in essence represents students gaming the points system(not that you can really blame them_. Students are not going to choose Physics, Chemistry, Higher level mathematics, or any other course the government would like them to if they can obtain the same points for less effort in course such as this one. I’m sure there is a simple game theory model which would easily show this, and which would be very applicable here.

Unfortunately, the results do not distinguish between the existing mathematics course, and the new Project Maths course on trial in 24 schools.

An aside, but:

I’m sure there is a simple game theory model which would easily show this, and which would be very applicable here.

By your reckoning, the “price” of an A1 (or whatever) is lower in Home Ec. That’s a simple consumer choice problem.

Game theory requires interaction between agents, which is different.

@Seamus Coffey

The number of students that took the Higher Level Maths Paper did indeed set a record low as was previously discussed.

JTO again:

This was discussed at length in June, after the Irish Times education section ran a scare story about it. There are a number of points we would need information on before deciding whether there is anything significant in the term ‘record low’, or whether it is just the usual Irish Times ‘crisis du jour’ scaremongering.

First, how far back does ‘record’ go in this instance?

Does it go back to to 1841, or 1921, or 1981?

Is it like one of those climate changemonger reports on the BBC, where they say ‘hottest June since records began in weather centre X’, with the implication that we are all going to fry, then, in the small print, it says that the records only began in weather centre X in 1991.

Second, we need the figures as a percentage of the population cohort that is of the age to sit the Leaving Cert, not the absolute numbers. That would be the age 18 cohort. Unfortunately, the CSO does not publish this annually, so the best approximation is the annual CSO figures for the age 15-19 cohort. Divide this by 5, and you’ll get a reasonable, although not precise, estimate for the age 18 cohort. These are the figures for the age 15-19 cohort annually from 1981 to 2010 (2011 not published yet):

1981 326.4
1982 329.1
1983 330.4
1984 332.0
1985 332.0
1986 331.1
1987 329.4
1988 330.0
1989 327.2
1990 328.3
1991 335.0
1992 333.3
1993 330.5
1994 331.0
1995 335.2
1996 339.5
1997 343.7
1998 343.7
1999 338.5
2000 329.4
2001 320.4
2002 313.2
2003 304.7
2004 298.4
2005 292.8
2006 290.9
2007 286.0
2008 283.9
2009 278.6
2010 273.3

So, the number in this age cohort peaked at 343.7 in 1997/98 and has fallen every year since, with the fall accelerating in the past couple of years. This reflects the fall in the birth rate in the 1980s. By 2010, the number in this age cohort had fallen by 20.5 per cent since 1997/98, and was, to coin a phrase, at a ‘record low’ (at least going back to 1981). So, it is both hardly surprising and totally meaningless if the numbers doing any particular subject are also at a ‘record low’. The number in the age 15-19 cohort will start to rise again very soon, because the birth rate hits its all-time low in 1994 and has been rising continuously since (in 2010 it was about 50 per cent greater than in 1994).

What we need to know before deciding whether there is anything significant in all this are the figures for the percentage of the age cohort doing particular subjects. That would require dividing the numbers doing them by the numbers in the relevant age cohort. However, if the standard of maths is as low as they say, that might be too difficult for the maths capabilities of the Irish Times education correspondents.

Grumpy above gives a figure of 8,237 for the number sitting Higher Maths in 2007. I was looking for a precise figure for this in the media and coudn’t find one. All I could find was ‘just over 8,000’. So, if Grumpy’s figure of 8,237 is correct, we can compare it with 2007.

number sitting Higher Maths:

2007 8,388 (from IT article in June)
2011 8,237 (from Grumpy above)

which is a fall of 1.8 per cent.

But, the numbers in the age 15-19 cohort are:

2007 286.0
2010 273.3

which is a fall of 4.4 per cent.

The figure for age cohort 15-19 in 2011 has not been published yet. But, let’s err on the side of caution, and assume that there was no further fall in 2011. That would man there was an increase of something in the region of 2.8 per cent in the percentage of the relevant age cohort sitting Higher Maths in 2011 as compared with 2007. So, ‘record low’, my foot.

@desmond brennan: You say that school syllabuses take an age to change. I know from first-hand experience with Economics.

The Economics syllabus is available on-line (http://www.curriculumonline.ie/uploadedfiles/PDF/lc_econ_sy.pdf). It’s a slightly tidied-up version of what was there 20 years ago, but by comparison with “A” level syllabuses in the UK it is totally inadequate.

In 1995 I spent a thoroughly depressing morning at a meeting of the Economics syllabus committee of the NCCA. It was dominated by Department officials and teacher union representatives. There was a huge resistance to change, and a refusal to take any responsibility for the quality of textbooks or other material. For over 15 years since that meeting precisely nothing was done by way of change. Clearly part of the problem was that teachers may not have had suitable Economics qualifications and any change was feared by their representatives, and was resisted by the Department because it would have involved an extensive training effort.

Here are the percentage of students who chose a subject by the various levels. We can see that the % taking higher level maths is much lower than the other core subjects. I would argue also that the difference between higher/ordinary level material is more pronounced for maths than Irish or English. I think the talk of record low / patterns etc. is pretty irrelevant. The real questions are why do so few students take higher maths and is this a good/bad thing?

Irish N Higher Ordinary Foundation
2009 45643 32.4 57.0 10.6
2010 44942 32.6 57.6 9.8
2011 44397 32.3 56.8 10.9

English N Higher Ordinary
2009 51033 64.4 35.6
2010 51499 64.1 35.9
2011 51455 63.7 36.3

Maths N Higher Ordinary Foundation
2009 51905 16.2 71.8 12.0
2010 52290 16.0 72.5 11.5
2011 51991 15.8 72.1 12.0

As for the uptake of sciences etc. Here are the percentage of students sitting exams in some non-core subjects: (Assuming Total N students =N students take maths – since it is generally compulsory this should be a fairly good indicator of numbers sitting the leaving cert). [using cohort sizes as JTO does ignores school leavers]

2009 2010 2011
Art 20.6 20.6 20.7
App.Maths 2.8 2.5 2.7
Physics 13.3 12.9 12.5
Chem.y 14.3 14.4 14.8
Physics+Chem. 1.0 0.8 0.9
AgScience 10.2 11.1 12.5

We can see that Physics and Chemistry uptake is low – since some subjects may take both we can argue that in 2011 between 15.7% (0.9 + 14.8) and 28.3% (12.5+14.8+0.9) of students have some exposure to physics and chemistry (The figures are substantially higher if we include Biology and ag science). Thus somewhere between 71.7% and 84.3% of students going to college have no exposure in school to physics and chemistry (other than the junior cert material). This has implications for the numbers studying science in university and the level that universities can assume knowledge in the first year of college.

I wonder if much research has been done on whether students are choosing not to take a particular subject vs schools choosing not to offer them? I suspect many students doing well in maths would love to do applied maths but aren’t offered the opportunity – anecdotally Physics or Chemistry are often not an option.

I note that at junior cert level approx 40% of higher level students get A or B while at ordinary it is close 34-40% – with about 70 percent of students sitting higher level. Thus it doesn’t on the face of it appear that students struggle massively with these areas. Incidentally is anyone aware of a table showing the number of teachers qualified to teach at a particular level by subject? I woud be interested to see how this compares to the number of students in the various subjects.


I haven’t gotten the time to go through every year. Here are the numbers taking the Higher Level Maths Paper and the total number of Leaving cert students for some recent years.

In 2006 9,018 out of the 54,110 Leaving Cert candidates sat the Higher Level Maths paper. That is 16.7%.

In 2007 8,388 out of the 53,894 Leaving Cert candidates sat the Higher Level Maths paper. That is 15.6%.

In 2008 8,510 out of the 52,143 Leaving Cert candidates sat the Higher Level Maths Paper. That is 16.3%.

In 2009 8,420 out of the 54,197 Leaving Cert candidates sat the Higher Level Maths Paper. That is 15.7%.

I could not see the 2010 report here but we know that 8,390 students took the Higher Level Maths Paper.

For 2011 we know that 8,237 sat the Higher Level Maths Paper out of a group of “nearly 58,000”. That is c.14.2%.

If you’re looking for proportions it looks like 2011 was a local minimum, at least.

@Seamus Coffey

Thanks for these statistics ( Since 1981). No problem at all with the absence of statistics for 1841 or 1921.

Given that we have a young and growing population ( I think we all agree!), and that human capital, particularly whether it’s “employed” or not, is probably our key strategic “economic” attribute/challenge, and the competitive global level/competencepositioning of that ( human) capital is critical, here’s the way a “manager”/strategist/employer would approach the ( conclusions of) the statistics:

1.) Is there a problem ( Yes/ No)

2.) If Yes, what is the problem ( three lines maximum please)

3.) Is it a big or a small problem ( Big/Small)

4.) If a ‘Big’ problem, who’s responsible for solving it?

5.) Once we have the name, he/she’ll tell us one month from now how to solve it (Maximum five-point action plan with targets, costs, accountabilities/responsibilities, time lines, measurement metrics)

Or he/she is fired ( next month). ( How do you do one of those smiley/quizzical yellow faces?

@ Seamus, JtO

Just speculating.

Say you’re both correct. There are fewer total number young people in Ireland age 17 or so, due to the lower birth rate around 1994, and yet the total number of children taking the Leaving Cert has stayed solid or even gone up slightly.

This implies that a higher proportion of the total number of young people are staying on to do Leaving Cert, who in previous years would have left after the Junior Cert.

It wouldn’t suprise me if this group of young people are not that keen on Higher Maths (and/or teachers have lower expectations for them, etc), and therefore one can see that the percentage taking the subject has dropped, while the absolute number has gone down a little bit. So Hmm, yes, if you look the Maths B and G levels have gone up slightly.

It’s been mentioned before, perhaps the need for Maths at any level to get into third level, is putting people off Advanced – the fail rates are actually very low.

Mind you look at the fail rates for Classical Civ., – what’s going on there?



To rectify the situation of the poor uptake in science and maths related subjects is terribly easy as OMF indicates above – award more points for these subjects and less for the perceived easier ones. Watch and wait as the tide turns.

Just a thought: I heard a student yesterday who had achieved 8 A1 grades (wow!) and wanted to go on to study medicine. I was wondering if the points for medicine was closer to 200 not 600 would he still be so inclined? If not then it raises a series of far more interesting debates IMV.

@ John Sheehan, if the Leaving cert economics syllabus needs to change then Universities first year Economics courses must change too. Having done both I seem to remember that the first year in college (in what is I believe is our top ranked Uni for Economics) is very much a re-hash of the Leaving cert. Great at the time but with the benefit of hindsight a bit of a waste of time.

@ Joh the Optimist, I hope you’ve been onto the State Examinations Commission, one of the questions from the Economics paper includes:

‘Ireland is experiencing the highest level of net outward migration since 1989’.
(The Central Statistics Office, 2010)
Discuss the reasons why Ireland is now experiencing a high level of net outward migration

@Anon Econ

I suspect the majority of first year Economics students haven’t actually taken Economics at Leaving Certificate level. I certainly hadn’t.

@anon econ: yes there is some overlap in content between LC and 1st year University Economics. There are also significant differences.

LC Economics is not a pre-requisite for University economics, and a sizeable number of 1st year students are new to the subject. Also, students who, having got quite good grades in the LC, sometimes get an unpleasant surprise, perhaps because they thought that they were doing a “re-hash” of the LC.

Why does almost nobody seem concerned that Irish school leavers are not as fluently multi-lingual as, say, Belgians or Poles?

@ Antoin Daltún

The Irish education system is designed to produce monolingual graduates who can get a job in one of the Anglophone countries if they need to emigrate. It has worked for the last 150 years but may no longer be fit for purpose.

I would encourage people to look at the LC economics paper & more importantly the marking scheme on the Examinations Commission website. I do this regularly despite the fits of apoplexy it tends to induce.
I find it hard to believe a well trained economist is responsible for the exam papers. Some of the solutions are dubious, others wrong. The whole tenor of the paper is rather quaint.

another aspect in our inefficient curriculms is the DoE. Since the foundation of the State it has been infested with ‘Knights’, ‘Opus Dei’ and similar types. These people had(and still do have) other interests to tend to before education

The resistance to change and innovation is massive in our educational system, and it will be interesting to see what the universities say should replace the points system.

From a ‘human capital’ point of view education is an odd thing, it’s inherent worth is limited, but as a costly ‘signalling’ mechanism, it offers rewards. Any reform of education needs to realize that educational achievement signals 2 things:
1) Stamina/application
2) Academic achievement/ability

And type (1) is often neglected by purists 😉

John Sheehan: students who, having got quite good [economics] grades in the LC, sometimes get an unpleasant surprise, perhaps because they thought that they were doing a “re-hash” of the LC.

Indeed. I recall hearing, many years ago, that those who had done economics in the LC had higher first-year failure rates. I wonder if that’s still true?

@ Antoin Daltún

Pupils spend 12 years learning the Irish language between primary and seconday school. In my experience very few in non Irish speaking schools (the vast majority) leave school with an ability to speak Irish to any kind of conversational level. However a big majority pass Irish in the Leaving Certificate simply because this is what teachers see as the aim of the system. The teachers see themselves as being effective, as indeed they are if passing the exam is the aim.

I know pupils who could not understand the oridinary level Leaving Cert Irish paper but were able able to obtain C grades by answering using methods taught to them by their teachers. Quite some achievment really by the teachers.

Restoring spoken Irish is way down the line of real aims of the school system. We saw that at the last election when Fine Gael proposed removing Irish as a compulsory Leaving Cert subject and the big reaction was all about the loss of income to Bean an Tis in gaeltact areas if Irish Colleges closed not its effect on the language revival.

@ Yields or Bust
Personally I think I would rather have the points system revised so that subject points are course specific i.e. to study engineering my leaving cert maths/physics results should be given a greater weight than english/irish, while for some other courses the weights would be reversed. To just bump up the points to solve the problem creates it’s own distortions since people are incentivised to shoose subject leading to points rather than subject they are intersted in /relevant to their chosen career, so I don’t share your optimism in terms of how easily it can be solved.

Secondly, in the short term at least, increasing points as a solution presumes students choose not to do these subject while having the option to do so – this is not always the case (you may argue that higher points will influence the subjects offered by schools, I’m fairly sure this would involve a considerable lag and in the interim some students are disadvantaged further in the race for college places).

Unfortunately, if this is the case, then it will mean that course-specific points systems as I described above will be problematic: where subjects not available to everyone are given high weights, students to whom they are unavailable will be disadvantaged. Are there maps available showing which schools offer each course in a locality and some measures of points acheived?

@ Kevin Denny

I agree. I once had a substantial minority of students giving a weird answer to a question on an assignment, and copped it must have come from the LC. When I went looking online for the source, I found it in the previous year’s marking scheme. It contained both incorrect and irrelevant stuff. I did write to the Exam Commission and they acknowledged my email but that was it.

Teaching first year Micro, I’m always struck by how students who’ve done the LC are _dying_ to talk about Giffen goods. Seeing as there is no clear evidence of one of these ever having existed, it seems a strange topic to emphasize.

I read somewhere that a revised LC Economics syllabus had been agreed but not implemented. I know that retraining/upskilling teachers is not a zero cost exercise, but it seems like a strange way of economizing to pay teachers to stand at the top of the class saying stuff that’s wrong and/or unimportant.

@Aedin Doris

Teaching first year Micro, I’m always struck by how students who’ve done the LC are _dying_ to talk about Giffen goods. Seeing as there is no clear evidence of one of these ever having existed, it seems a strange topic to emphasize.

I I’ve had to teach second-year students how to differentiate before they could I can’t find the reference now, but I’m sure there was a paper in the JPE or QJE recently (in the past five years) that found rice in China

Whoops, pressed ‘Submit’ by accident there. I meant to say:

I’ve had to give a crash course in differentiation before giving tutorials in second year micro – I can certainly sympathize.

I can’t find the reference now, but I’m sure there was a paper in the JPE or QJE recently (in the past five years) that found a lot of evidence that rice in China is still a Giffen good.

@Seamus Coffey

Well done for getting the percentages, which are certainly more meaningful than the absolute numbers, but I think Gavin Kostick also has a very valid point.

@Gavin Kostick

You have hit the nail bang on the head.

The most meaningful number (in relation to Higher Maths) is the percentage of the age 18 cohort (or around 18) that are taking it, not the percentage of those taking the Leaving Cert, who took Higher Maths in it. Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to get the annual figures for the age 18 cohort. This is the best I can come up with.

These are the figures for age cohorts 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 from the 2006 census:

age 13: 55,018
age 14: 57,105
age 15: 58,318
age 16: 56,551
age 17: 56,716
age 18: 58,326

I know it isn’t perfect, and the figures could be affected by migration (either way), and even deaths, since 2006, but the following figures should be reasonable approximations of the number in the age 18 cohort annually since 2006 (since those aged 17 in 2006 were aged 18 in 2007, those aged 16 in 2006 were aged 18 in 2008, and so on):

number aged 18 in 2006: 58,326
number aged 18 in 2007: 56,716
number aged 18 in 2008: 56,551
number aged 18 in 2009: 58,318
number aged 18 in 2010: 57,105
number aged 18 in 2011: 55,018

Seamus Coffey has given the following figures for the number taking Higher Maths annually since 2006:

number taking Higher Maths in 2006: 9,018
number taking Higher Maths in 2007: 8,388
number taking Higher Maths in 2008: 8,510
number taking Higher Maths in 2009: 8,420
number taking Higher Maths in 2010: 8,390
number taking Higher Maths in 2011: 8,237

Dividing the second set of figures by the first set, to obtain the percentages of the age 18 cohort taking Higer Maths, gives:

percentage of age 18 cohort taking Higher Maths in 2006: 15.461%
percentage of age 18 cohort taking Higher Maths in 2007: 14.775%
percentage of age 18 cohort taking Higher Maths in 2008: 15.048%
percentage of age 18 cohort taking Higher Maths in 2009: 14.438%
percentage of age 18 cohort taking Higher Maths in 2010: 14.692%
percentage of age 18 cohort taking Higher Maths in 2011: 14.971%

In other words, it is almost the same every year, a bit above or a bit below 15%, with no real trend away from this figure in either direction.

From the figures that Seamus Coffey has given, it looks as though there was a sizeable increase between 2006 and 2011 in the percentage of the age 18 cohort staying on at school to take the Leaving Cert. This is a good thing. The fact that lots of those, who would have been dropping out of school at age 15 in 2006, but by 2011 were staying on at school until age 18 to take the Leaving Cert, were not adding to the numbers doing Higher Maths is not important. Those who were dropping out of school at age 15 in 2006 were hardly of the academic calibre to take Higher Maths. But, if they are now staying on at school and taking some less taxing subject than Higher Maths in the Leaving Cert, this is still better than dropping out of school at age 15. The percentage of the age 18 cohort taking Higher maths is not affected. If the only yardstick to be considered was the percentage of those taking the Leaving Cert, who took Higher Maths in it, then all that would be necessary would be to throw those not taking Higher Maths out of school at age 15, and you could have 100 per cent of those taking the Leaving Cert, who took Higher Maths in it. But, again, the percentage of the age 18 cohort taking Higher maths would not be affected by such a move.

It is interesting to compare the figures with the UK. Some info is provided in this link:


From this, 77,001 took A’Level Maths in the UK in 2010, and only 11,682 took A’Level Further Maths. Given that the age 18 cohort in the UK is around 750,000, these figures look a lot less than in Ireland. I have no idea if A’Level Further Maths in the UK equates to Higher Maths in Ireland, or if just the A’Level Maths in the UK equates to Higher Maths in Ireland (maybe someone in education would know), but, even on the latter basis, only about 10% of the age 18 cohort in the UK took A’Level Maths (and only about 1.5% took A’Level Further Maths).

This doesn’t mean that all is hunky-dory with maths education in Ireland. There appears to be something of a problem regarding the quality of maths expertise in Ireland that needs looking at (as evidenced by the ESRI poulation/migration estimates debacle). But, the problem of the decline in the proportion of the age 18 cohort in Ireland taking Higher Maths, which the media are banging on about, apears to be largely mythical.


Maths “A” level in the UK traditionally comprises 50% pure maths and 50% applied maths.

Further Maths was always limited because many maths teachers struggled with it. It was regarded as a kind of quarter-way house to university maths. Few schools really equipped to teach it.

In contrast “S” level maths was not broader, so in theory less of a problem of teaching capacity – just significantly harder questions.

An additional complicating factor is the number of students who repeat their LC and will be counted in two subsequent years. Ther are also mature LC students although I suspect they’re unlikely to take higher maths. I have no idea what the numbers of either group is although I presume repeats are down since the demand squeeze in the late nineties – a factor set to re-emerge over the next decade.

Neither of these factors will be enough to negate JTO’s sustantive point that the crisis so often referred to in the Irish Times does not seem to have an evidence base.

And on the Pisa scores many would be well served by reading Kevin Denny’s excellent post on this from a while back: http://gearybehaviourcenter.blogspot.com/2011/01/irelands-pisa-results-myth-and-reality.html

Giffen goods are an interesting curiousum but probably not worth the attention they get.
I don’t know about the revised Economics syllabus and whether any serious economists were involved- nobody in UCD as far as I know. Perhaps the economics profession collectively should be more active in this regard & perhaps the IEA should take the lead ?

@Examiner, thanks I’d forgotten about that: ‘better read it again.

Was just thinking, whilst the Knights of Marlborough St are off kissing bishop’s rings, and their minnions playing solitaire….the private sector publishing companies revamp their books, intra syllabus change…and everyone has to switch to the new editions.

Now that is either a cosy club, or genuine example of private sector ingenuity improving the education. Either way, the Knight’s armour is a lot rustier

@ Yields, OMF, etc

Just to note that a pilot scheme for bonus points for Higher Maths for University entrance seems to be underway.

“10 October, 2010 – Tánaiste welcomes confirmation of bonus points for higher level maths. Change to take effect for university entrants from Leaving Certificate 2012”



“The scheme which the Council [of the IUA] has endorsed is simple and transparent, involving a bonus of 25 points for students who score grade D3 or above in higher level mathematics. ”



Maths “A” level in the UK traditionally comprises 50% pure maths and 50% applied maths.

JTO again:

Thanks for refreshing my memory. I took “A” level maths in N. Ireland in 1966 and, although, I can hardly remember any of what I studied now, you are quite correct that it was roughly equally divided between pure and applied.

What I wasn’t sure of was how it compared with Maths south of the border. Whether it would compare to just Leaving Cert Maths or whether it would need to be compared with Leaving Cert Higher Maths. Either way, the percentage of the age 18 cohort taking Higher Maths south of the border seems to be significantly higher than the percentage taking even Maths (let alone Further Maths) in the UK.

Of course, students taking Leaving Cert south of the border have traditionally taken a lot more subjects than “A” Level students in the UK, or at least they did in my day. I am not sure of the current situation, but, when I did “A” Levels in 1966, I only took 3 subjects (in fact, I needed only to have taken 2 to get into Queen’s University), whereas my cousin in Donegal took about 8 or 9 subjects for her Leaving Cert the same year. When she told me this at the time, I assumed that her courses must have been to a lower standard than mine for her to be taking so many of them, but, when she showed me her pure maths paper afterwards, it was roughly similar to what I had done.

I did a general science degree, consisting of Maths, Physics and Chemistry.
It was hard work, but I enjoyed it because I was interested in how everything works.
It never earned me a penny.
After several years of unemployment, I ended up doing a masters degree in IT, which is what I work in now.
Many of my friends can tell the same story. One did a PhD in Laser Physics, then spent 5 years as a taxi driver, then went into IT.

Now, when I talk to young people who are thinking of going to third-level education, I tell them that they must graduate with a clear, recognised profession title (“Doctor”, “Dentist”, “Economist” etc.) and skills that are immediately useful in a workplace, or they have wasted their time and money.

The declining number of young people studying maths , sciences and engineering is very easily explained – these subjects are hard work and they don’t pay!!!


Neither of these factors will be enough to negate JTO’s sustantive point that the crisis so often referred to in the Irish Times does not seem to have an evidence base.

JTO again:

Today’s Irish Independent is even worse.


The two journalists writing this rant, Katherine Donnelly and Breda Heffernan, should tell us what their own maths qualifications are, because they certainly don’t show any sign of having any.

As I said above, there may or may not be (the evidence is not conclusive either way and I read Kevin Denny’s blog comments on the PISA tests with interest) be a problem with the quality of maths expertise in Ireland. However, the problem of falling numbers taking Higher Maths seems more and more to be largely mythical and quite possibly explained by the fall in the number in the age 18 cohort. However, the fact that so many journalists ignore this salient fact (of the fall in the number in the age 18 cohort), when ranting about the fall in the number taking Higher Maths, could itself be a sign of a serious problem with the quality of maths expertise in Ireland.

Pete: whatever about medicine & dentistry, a BA or even a Masters (n my opinion) in Economics doesn’t make you an economist and I think the same applies for history, psychology etc etc. I think the advice you give is quite wrong. Most people will graduate with degrees that do not qualify them as particular professionals. They may know know what they want and the labour market is changing. Over time, with experience in different jobs and maybe further education and training they move towards a career (which they may end up changing from later). That they don’t go straight to some particular career in no sense implies that they were wasting their time and money. Getting it right takes time and getting it wrong can mean “repenting at leisure”.

I also suspect the “maths crisis” has been hyped up generally & not just by two particular journalists. Politicians, industrialists have also bought into this. That’s not to say that maths levels shouldn’t be better but there are other challenges facing the system & maths needs to be seen in this context. But people’s attention spans seem to be limited to dealing with one issue at a time.


>> Over time, with experience in different jobs and maybe further education and training they move towards a career

That sentence exactly illustrates my point. What you’re saying is that, after nearly 20 years of full-time education, people finally arrive in the real world and have to start at the bottom and work their way up (and get “further education and training”) before they can even “move towards” having skills that might get them paid enough to live on. You might think that’s ok, but I don’t.

Peter: I never said 20 years & I don’t know of any evidence thats supports that contention. Most people find their vocation in a lot less time. The idea that people will know what they want to do at say age 17 is absurd in most cases I believe. Well they might think they know but the reality often turns out different. I certainly didn’t know that I wanted to be an economist though I was clear I wanted to study the subject at college.

The nearly 20 years that I’m referring to is the time between entering full-time education at age 4 and graduating from university at about 21-22.

If they graduate with no sellable skills, they will have to spend years gaining sellable skills and experience though a series of poorly paid jobs and even more training and education, as you said.

The result is that they do not really begin their “professional” life until they are 30 or even older. Often, their personal progress such as parenthood, house purchase, pension investment etc. get delayed until then too.

Suddenly, between the age of 30 and 65, they are trying to pay off a mortgage, raise and educate childen, and save enough to fund at least 20 years of retirement. For most people, it’s not possible.

You were lucky to study a subject because it interested you, and then manage to earn a living using what you had learned. How would you have felt if you graduated, then found that the knowledge you had worked hard to gain had no market value, and that you were competing for jobs against people who had just done the leaving cert, were younger than you, and had no student debt so could afford to work for less than you?
That is the situation facing huge numbers of graduates who made a poor choice of subject to study.

I note that none of you has mentioned leaving certificate Technology as a subject. This is what I teach, and I’m not surprised no-one has mentioned it, as most people aren’t even aware that it is a leaving cert subject. I have worked for many years as an engineer, a technical author, and a teacher of maths, science, computers and technology. I think the leaving cert technology course is a fantastic course, and I would go as far as saying, it is one of the most enlightened courses on the leaving cert curriculum and one of the few courses with real relevance in the working world. Yet it is not being pushed, and still only done by a few hundred students a year. There have been 3 years of leaving cert students through it already, but there were 15 years of junior cert students before that. I truly believe that this is a subject that we should be pushing the younger generation towards – where they can learn about IT, energy, materials, electronics, quality, project management, manufacturing, the environment etc.

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