On September 3rd, UCDSU President Joanna Siewierska published an article in the Irish Times entitled ‘Time to change our unfair CAO points system.’ This scathing opinion piece presented a forceful critique of the Leaving Certificate system and proposed several alternatives intended to improve the current system.
Two days later Associate Professor Greg Foley of the School of Biotechnology at Dublin City University published a letter in the Irish Times in response to Siewierska. Foley’s letter, entitled ‘Moving away from points system may not level the playing field,’ presented a dissenting rebuttal to a number of points Siewierska argues.
The SU President touches on a number of topics including stress, competition, inequality and social justice. Siewierska comments on the Leaving Certificate’s approach to different ‘styles of learning,’ saying: – ‘The pressure to perform well in order to access your future can be immense. If a student’s style of learning does not suit the limited assessment techniques used in the Leaving Cert, and they cannot afford grinds or expensive tutors, it can have a crushing effect on their confidence.’ Foley responds to this point saying, ‘this notion has an intuitive appeal but is discredited.’ He argues that ‘when students differ in terms of exam performance, it is often as a consequence of a combination of genetic factors and behavioural ones,’ disagreeing with Siewierska’s suggestion.
In her article, the SU President advocated for a ‘fairer approach to allocating places in colleges and universities, rather than solely based on points accumulated during a high-pressure exam season at the end of school. This new approach should assess the diversity of skills and talents of young people and its underlying aim should be to minimise systemic inequalities and injustices.’
Foley responds to these claims saying that ‘the Higher Education Authority produces data on an annual basis that shows that a lack of achievement at secondary school is a good predictor of failing to progress at third level.’ He also goes on to suggest that all the evidence points towards these being ‘highly context-dependent.’
In an interview with the Tribune, Siewierska responded to Foley’s arguments saying, ‘When you look at the leaving cert as a whole and the way it assesses students, I stand by the fact that a two-week exam period, that is pressurised and intense, will not reflect the talents and skills of students.’ She later went on to add that the current Leaving Certificate system ‘is recreating inequality. There’s some students from a particular background or school [that] will always go on to higher education. And other places we see year in year out very low numbers of students progressing. I would say that there’s a problem within the system that’s causing this.’
Conor Capplis – Editor