Missing the point(s)
On October 21 the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) Joint Committee on Education and Skills had a discussion on ‘Second Level Curriculum Reform’. The Committee heard evidence from a number of key individuals in secondary education, including representatives of the teaching trade unions, the Teaching Council, and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. The discussion was wide-ranging and covered the curriculum generally, new or revised second level courses, the reform of mathematics teaching, the teaching of Irish, investment in education, and so forth.
However, what is striking is that no participant in the discussions mentioned the ‘points system’ administered by the Central Applications Office (CAO). As I have mentioned before, the points system has for some years now undermined the Leaving Certificate curriculum, secondary school teaching and learning methods, and degree programme choices in the final year at school. It has in my view become the chief obstacle to secondary education reform. The universities, which control the points system, have not acted to correct its failings, and increasingly it appears to be regarded as some sort of force of nature that cannot be adjusted.
In a country that aims to encourage a majority of young people to take a higher education degree programme, the entry qualification for universities and colleges and its requirements will automatically be the driving force in secondary education. It is therefore vital that this does not have a negative influence on curriculum development, learning methods and career choice. In the Irish case, the CAO points system manages to exert that negative influence decisively under all headings. Its reform must be a priority, and this must be recognised both by those involved in running secondary education and by the universities. It is wholly alarming that this does not appear to be the case.