The Department of Education is considering a proposal to reduce the number of grades awarded in the Leaving Certificate examination from 14 to eight.

The plan is part of wider efforts to reduce the pressure on students to achieve marginal gains in exam performance and help shift focus back to learning instead. 

Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn said the proposal addressed for the first time, and in a coherent way across both second and third levels, concerns around the high stakes nature of the points system and the Leaving Certificate.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland has given the proposal a guarded welcome, but said without increased funding at third level, the measure is simply "window dressing".

Publication of the planned reforms coincides with the start of teachers' annual trade union conferences today.

The topics for discussion promise to be Junior Cycle reform, teacher salaries, increased workload and overall funding in the education sector. 

Currently Leaving Cert grades run from A1 and A2 down through D1, D2 and D3 in a finely graduated system which decides how many CAO points each student gets.

The dept believes the points system contributes to a culture of rote learning at secondary level and changing the grading system could be one way to reduce the exam pressure on students and their teachers. 

The proposed new system would have fewer grades

At honours level the top grade H1 would be awarded for 90-100%, with H2 awarded for 80-89%. Each grade would cover a 10% band until the lowest grade H8, which would cover 0-30%.

The grades at ordinary level would be the same but with the prefix O instead of H.