The number of students taking higher level agricultural science as a Leaving Certificate subject has increased by 43% over the last decade, according to Department of Education figures.

Some 7,553 students took the subject's higher level exam in 2021, a significant increase from the 5,287 who did so in 2011.

Meanwhile, the number taking the subject at ordinary level has decreased from 1,186 to 915 over the same period.

The jump in the uptake of the subject at higher level (+43%) is well ahead of the increase in overall numbers sitting Leaving Cert exams at the same time (+6.25%).

Leaving Certificate agricultural science involves the study of the science and technology underlying the principles and practices of agriculture. It traditionally includes a project component, as well as a written examination.

Lower grades

However, the extra students taking the subject appear to not be fairly rewarded for doing so.

In 2021, higher level agricultural science students received an average of 71.2 points.

While this was the highest average points students had received in the last decade of exams, it was still the lowest average awarded out of all 38 Leaving Cert subjects.

Since 2011, higher level agricultural science students have received the lowest or second-lowest average points a total of eight times.

Leaving Cert ag science students hearing from the Teagasc team at a specially organised farm event. / Donal O'Leary

For the other three years, students received the third-, fifth- and seventh-lowest points.

In the same period, students taking the subject at ordinary level received the lowest average points out of 38 subjects a total of five times and the second-lowest average points a further four years.

Student view

Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal, Irish Second-Level Students' Union president Emer Neville said the trend of consistently lower grades “certainly needs a review”.

She said that this should be a component of wider senior cycle reform, as the Leaving Certificate is currently “incredibly flawed”.

The Tipperary student said she recognises that agricultural science is a relatively new course and said there may be some “teething issues” with the curriculum and its examination.

She insisted students shouldn’t “get bogged down” by the consistently lower grades, as “agriculture is such an important part of Irish society”.

Neville drew attention to the importance of education on the subject due to its role in Ireland’s efforts to combat climate change.

Read more

Agricultural Science: introducing this year's study guides