More myths about the CAO and the Leaving Cert

Myth 1

School-leavers are attracted to high point courses because of the prestige factor

Why this is a myth (I think!)

My experience of talking to pupils at careers fairs over the years is that the opposite is the case. Youngsters tend to be reluctant to apply for courses that they think might be beyond their reach. Their thinking seems to be that it would be a waste to put down a course as their first preference if they have little chance of making the grade.

The only way to settle this whole argument would be for the institutions to release their first preference data and, if they did, I am pretty confident that the number of first preferences for low intake courses of any description will not be much greater than the total number of places available and so these courses will account for a very small proportion of the total number of first preferences in the system. We need to stop obsessing about these so-called niche courses and think more about the fact that all sorts of stakeholders are ‘encouraging’ school-leavers to adopt a herd mentality (the real source of heat in the system) by choosing careers purely on the basis of the job opportunities that they might provide.

Myth 2

Increased third level participation rates are due to parental snobbery

Why this is a myth

Just look at the environment in which students make choices about their career. They are bombarded with advice about the supposed skills shortage in STEM, about how we are currently training students for jobs that don’t even exist yet, about how the average school leaver can be expected to change career umpteen times during their lifetime etc. etc. Meanwhile, education experts and the folk at organisations like the World Economic forum talk incessantly about how crucial it will be for the employees of the future to be adaptable, emotionally intelligent critical thinkers, adept at solving complex problems using their 21st century skills!

So what is a young person and their parents to think other than that third level education is essential if you want to survive in the workplace of the future?

Of course, things have become even more confusing in recent years as increasing numbers of middle class commentators suggest that other people’s children take up apprenticeships, the complete opposite of the whole jobs that don’t exist concept. Who’d be a school-leaver?


Myth 3

CAO points don’t matter

Why this is a myth

As I followed the Leaving Cert coverage on social media last week, it struck me just how many people were tweeting in an attempt to reassure youngsters that the Leaving Cert “doesn’t define them”. (The worst are the celebrity types who did badly at school and who boast about how well things turned out for them.) Where exactly are all these people who supposedly “define” school-leavers on the basis of their CAO points score? I’ve never met anyone who thinks that CAO points are the measure of a person. But getting a high CAO points score opens doors and gives young people the fastest route to their career of choice. Furthermore, those of us in the third level sector, while believing that the Leaving is a reasonable measure of overall academic ability, also realise that it is not a very good predictor of individual performance at third level. All sorts of other factors come in to play when a person makes the transition from second level to third level. But ask any third level lecturer if they would prefer a class of 500-pointers over a class of 350-pointers and the vast majority will opt for the former. And they do so because a class of the former will have a much better dynamic, one where there will be a good work ethic and where the majority of students will have high expectations of themselves. But we don’t make any judgement about the students as human beings and we never have.




About Greg Foley

A lecturer in Biotechnology in Dublin City University for more than 25 years. Trained as a Chemical Engineer in UCD (BE and PhD) and Cornell (MS). Does research on analysis and design of membrane filtration systems.
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One Response to More myths about the CAO and the Leaving Cert

  1. Pingback: Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » More myths about the CAO and the Leaving Cert

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