Irish Examiner article

By Niall Murray Education Correspondent
Monday, October 19, 2009

THE new test used in addition to Leaving Certificate results to select entrants to medical school is a barrier to poorer students becoming doctors, an equality expert has claimed.

The Higher Professional Aptitude Test (HPAT) was used for the first time to measure suitability of applicants for medicine degrees and the scores were combined with Leaving Certificate results of all applicants with at least 480 points.

Although the HPAT is aimed at widening access beyond those with near- maximum grades, the lowest score with which any student got into medicine in the first round of offers was 550 out of 600.

Professor Kathleen Lynch, head of equality studies at University College Dublin (UCD), said the HPAT, and another aptitude test for mature students applying to University College Cork and UCD are of dubious educational value.

“They are a new barrier for lower-income students… Proficiency on the tests requires practice and insider knowledge that is only available to those who can buy it. The HPAT is also problematic in gender terms,” she said.

At a weekend conference on investing in education organised by the Teachers’ Union of Ireland, Prof Lynch said Government has allowed institutionalised injustices in education persist over generations: “It expects schools to supplement basic educational services with so-called voluntary contributions that they know poor parents cannot afford. It allows schools for the privileged to charge fees in addition to being funded by the State.”

Jackie O’Callaghan of the National Parents Association for Vocational Schools and Community Colleges said: “The change to the pupil teacher ratio has… had serious repercussions for students with special educational needs. Typically, it is the poorest families who suffer as a result.

“Education costs for parents have rocketed at a time when families are already under unprecedented economic strain. It is vital that the third-level registration fee be frozen for the foreseeable future to allow parents to budget for education provision.”

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