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Almost half of Leaving Cert students do not pursue a CAO course

March 13, 2023

Original Article:

Half of Leaving Cert students go straight to college on a CAO-listed course, according to newly-released data.

While the CAO grabs most of the attention, almost half of school-leavers pursue other education and training routes.

Data from the centralised college applications agency shows that about 56pc of Leaving Cert candidates in any year accept a CAO offer.

There is entry to higher education on courses outside the CAO, but the numbers involved are small when compared with the CAO, which had 49,466 acceptances in 2022.

Of the 61,107 Leaving Cert 2022 candidates, 34,299 started on a CAO course in the autumn.

A CAO breakdown of acceptance over the years 2014-2022, provided to the Irish Independent, shows a consistent pattern of around 56pc of Leaving Cert applicants accepting an offer.

Many more Leaving Cert students apply to the CAO, usually around 75-80pc. Last year 48,651 CAO applicants were Leaving Cert candidates, so about 14,000 of those did not end up on a CAO course. Another 13,000 sixth-years didn’t apply.

Some applicants may have changed their mind, others may have been ineligible for an offer, such as because they did not meet the subject and grade requirements, while others may have received an offer but did not accept it.

The drive for Leaving Cert grades/CAO points is blamed for fuelling unacceptable stress levels among students and overshadowing the needs of those who are better suited to other post-school options.

There are changes planned, with a greater focus on apprenticeships as well as a new initiative that will allow students to start a degree programme in a college of further education, where CAO points will not be used in the selection process.

Already every year, thousands of Leaving Cert students delay their entry to higher education, many because they are squeezed out of a college place because they didn’t achieve the necessary points.

Some move straight to a post-Leaving Cert (PLC) programme in a college of further education and subsequently use that as a basis for applying to the CAO. Others put off applying to the CAO for another reason, such as working or travel.

According to the CAO breakdown, last year 11,847 applicants used a Leaving Cert other than from 2022 for the purpose of their application.

The CAO figures appear to contradict other published data showing progression to college rates of higher than 56pc.

In 2022, the so-called school league tables published by the media indicated a college transfer rate – overwhelmingly CAO courses – of around 70pc. This data also includes school-leavers from the Republic who started college in Northern Ireland.

The tables over-represent the true position but there are reasons for that. Some higher education institutions double-count a student who sat the Leaving Cert twice, while first year students who entered via a PLC course, or who took a year or two out, may also cite their school on their CAO application.


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