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Article/Reading (Irish Universities Association & Institutes of Technology Ireland, 2015)


As of the beginning of 2017 the new grading system for the Leaving Certificate
came into effect. This system has been introduced by Universities and Institutes of
Technology in conjunction with the Department of Education and Skills to improve the
transition from second to third level. The main focus for the changes was to reform the
Leaving Certificate assessment and the admission process to higher education institutes.
The new grading system is now using fewer and a broader range of grade bands as
opposed to the previous system.
The main changes to the system involved reducing the grade bands from 14 to 8.
The previous system ranged from A1 to NG and the grades were in intervals of 5 points.
The new system ranges from H1 to H8 for higher level and O1 – O8 for ordinary level to
which they are in intervals of 10 % between each grade, in comparison with the previous
system in that each grade band was in intervals of 5%. The most notable point form the
changes is that of the award for H7, which is awarded for grades between 30 and 39 per
cent on the higher level papers, this grade will reward 37 CAO points. In previous years
this grade would result in an E grade and was counted as a fail.
This new system aims to reward students with scholastic achievement and to
reduce the use of random selection when allocating places in higher education, the
system aims to minimise the number of students who receive the same value of points
and to distribute students’ points across the 0-600 points range. To encourage more
students to participate in higher education. To preserve the value to the ordinary level
and higher level points scale and to encourage students to take higher level subjects for
the Leaving Cert by allocating points for H7 grades. As of previous years the reward of 25
points for higher level maths is still in effect for grades H6 and above. The new system
also encourages higher levels of engagement in each subject. The system allows for a
more flexibility and innovation in the teaching of Leaving Cert subjects. This aims to
deepen the understanding of the subject being thought for the Leaving Cert and tries to
eliminate the need to “teach to the test” and rote learning strategies. In previous years
students would miss out on courses by small margins of 5 points, putting huge pressure
on students to achieve a few extra marks. As of 2017 all students regardless of when they
sat the leaving certificate will be graded according to the new system. Basic matriculation
requirement remain unchanged and have been revised by colleges according to the new
system. QQI and FET awards have also been revised according to the new points system,
the previous maximum points score of 400 has now been reduced to 390 points.


There are many advantages and disadvantages to the new system, however like many
high profile changes in the education system there has been a general consensus of both
worry and positivity surrounding the changes.
There is however a concern for those students who receive the same points but
achieve very different results in an exam, for example a student who receives a result of
50% and those who get 59% will both receive a H5/O5 grade. Is this a fair reflection on a
student’s achievement if another student receives the same points for a significantly
lower percentage? Peter McGuire (2017) also argues this point stating “There’s an
argument that, in this competitive system, students who get an extra nine per cent should
be rewarded and that they are being punished for doing better.” There is also an
advantage to this in that there is not the same pressure on students to score points in
such a small grade bracket which was the case in the previous grading system. The
competitive nature of the Laving Cert in past years placed untold pressure on students to
achieve the points for their place in higher education. None of us are strangers to hearing
about friends or family who have fell short of being offered a place in college because
they were 5 points short. Peter McGuire (2017) mentions comments from Clive Byrne,
director of the National Association of Principals and Deputies who explains that “under
the current system, the majority of grades are separated by just five per cent, equating to
an additional five CAO points. This can cause heartbreak for many who fail to qualify for
their course because they have missed out by those five points. The new system puts less
focus on point’s gaps and more on individual achievement.” I believe that the pros
outweigh the cons in this case and I agree with Clive Byrnes statement. This change can
help to reduce the effect the point’s race has on students, and will open the door of
opportunity to many students who would have missed out on certain courses because
they fell short on points.
Comments from Mari Cahalane, head of the BT Young Scientist in an article written
by Nicky Ryan (2017) explained that you do not need to be an “A” student to pursue a
career in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). “As these courses
traditionally carried a requirement of high points, this fall in points may in fact open it up
and allow many other STEM enthusiasts to consider studying it at third level as it is now
even more achievable.” Also in the article Ryan outlines the effects the change in the
grading system had made on the CAO offers stating “Most other science and technology
courses are down slightly.” The new changes have also been met with strong opposition
from Danny O’Hare, former president of DCU and his colleague Michael Ryan, a former
professor of computing stating that the system serves as an injustice, students who
receive the lesser result of the grade bracket may be offered places in college, and for the
student who receives the higher of the grade bracket may lose out on their opportunity.
(McGuire, 2017). I disagree with this comment as the broader grade band provides the
student who is not suited to a summative exam like the leaving cert and give them an
opportunity to pursue a career in something they otherwise may not have achieved. In an
interview, Alex Fogarty a leaving cert student stated that “The Leaving Cert is really a
memory test and that there isn’t a chance for students to show their personality, skills
and flair.” (McGuire, 2017). This system give students that opportunity to perform to the
best of their abilities.
One of the biggest talking points of the new changes was the award of points for a
H7 which is the grade bracket of 30-39%. One of the main reasons behind the
introduction of this is to encourage more students to sit higher level papers for the
leaving cert and to deter students from dropping to Ordinary level on the day of the
exam. “The aim of this change is to recognise that a grade of between 30 and 39 per cent
on a higher-level paper is still an achievement, and to discourage students dropping down
to pass at the last minute”. (McGuire, 2017). An article in the Irish examiner Niall Murray
(2017) examines the effect the newly introduced system has had on students taking
higher level subjects. The results show that there has been an increase of students taking
higher level papers across the board. “There was a 3.2% increase in the proportion of
students taking higher level across all subjects offered at more than one level” (Murray,
2017). This is a great incentive for students to avail of the potential points that can be
achieved by taking a higher level paper and also reduces the risk of a student losing out
on points because they failed a higher level paper.
I believe that these changes are a stepping stone for the government to develop
more changes to the leaving cert and to broaden the horizons for all students in the
future. These new changes are a positive in my opinion and has huge potential to broaden
the way in which teachers conduct their leaving cert classes.

Irish Universities Association & Institutes of Technology Ireland, 2015.
Available at:
[Accessed 28 01 2017].
McGuire, P., 2017. How to understand the new points system. The Irish Times, 16 08.
McGuire, P., 2017. The new CAO points system explained. The Irish Times, 23 05.
Murray, N., 2017. Leaving Cert results: Students reap the rewards of exam reform. Irish
Examiner, 16 Aug.
Ryan, N., 2017. The CAO points are out - but remember, don't panic. The Journal, 21 Aug.