How has STEM fared after 2018’s Leaving Cert results?

15 Aug 2018

Students from The Institute of Education celebrating their Leaving Certificate 2018 exam results. From left: Saoirse Kennedy, Templeogue; Lily Farrell, Donnybrook; Lucy Mochler, Foxrock; and Ellen Howie, Rathmichael. Image: Colm Mahady/Fennells

In the day that more than 57,000 Irish students learned how they did at the Leaving Cert, we find out how the STEM subjects fared.

Depending on your outlook, Leaving Cert results day can be one that can’t come soon enough, or one that you dread the build-up to.

Today (15 August), almost 57,150 secondary-school students received their results in what is the second year of the simplified marking system.

While there is a multitude of different career or academic paths to take from here for these students, a lot of the attention is being put on subjects that fall within the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) remit.

Just a small increase

With that in mind, response to this year’s figures has been mixed, with some arguing that maintaining a steady course is not enough to meet demand, particularly among Irish-based major tech companies.

Figures released for the numbers of students taking different higher-level STEM subjects showed that the percentage change was only a marginal increase on last year.

The largest increase was seen in mathematics, with a 1.5 percentage point increase to 29.5pc of students.

Other small increases were seen in biology (0.9 percentage points), agricultural science (0.6) and engineering (0.2).

Some small decreases were also found, however, with construction studies dropping by 0.3 percentage points as well as physics and chemistry, with just 0.7pc of Leaving Cert students doing the subject.

Good news for biology, not so for maths

In terms of results, figures for this year compared with last year’s showed a marginal increase in those who achieved a H4 or higher.

One of the biggest increases was in biology where 11.3pc of students received a H1 grade, more than double the 5.1pc who did last year.

One of those issuing a warning over the figures was Engineering Ireland’s Damien Owens, who said that the number of civil and building engineering graduates has dropped by 45pc in the past five years.

“We are seeing new job opportunities for graduates and increasing salaries within the engineering sector, but there continues to be a shortfall of engineers to meet the needs of industry,” he said.

“The world of engineering is open to everyone – girls, boys, creative thinkers, curious minds, problem-solvers and leaders.”

Clive Byrne, director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, also raised fears over the failure rate seen in maths.

“It is great to see 31pc of students take higher-level maths; however, it is alarming to see that more than 3,700 students in total failed their maths paper,” he said.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic