Plans for major reform of the Leaving Certificate have been hailed as “a momentous move” by the Children’s Rights Alliance.
The alliance welcomed an announcement from the Department of Education of plans to overhaul subject curricula, aiming to reduce reliance on final exams and move towards increased teacher-based assessment.
It said the proposed reforms, informed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA)'s review of senior cycle education, were a first step “desperately needed to level the playing field.”
Tanya Ward, chief executive of the alliance, said: “Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and long before it, young people have raised their concerns with the current senior cycle and the pressures it can put on young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
“The truth is the current senior cycle that squeezes educational performance into one final exam cannot possibly meet the needs of all students. Unlocking a young person’s potential should not be determined by accessing grinds to crack the system or rote learning to get by.
“Today’s announcement is the first step in levelling the playing field for so many... From a children’s rights perspective, the move to teacher-based assessment to the tune of 40 per cent is really welcome.”
Concern over resources
Opposition politicians elsewhere cautiously welcomed the news of reform.
Sinn Féin spokesperson on education, TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, said “we have all known for a long time that the Leaving Cert... is not suited to the 21st century.”
“There are a number of issues that must be resolved to make sure that this reform is fair and equitable for all in the school community.
“We need more detail from the Minister on what teacher-assessed-but-externally-moderated continuous assessment will look like; it is important that the relationship between teacher and student - that is at the heart of the Irish school system - is preserved.”
He added that the Minister “must provide reassurances that the first cohort of students who will trial this new senior cycle are treated fairly.”
Labour education spokesperson, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, meanwhile called for an audit of the capacity of secondary schools to deliver the proposed changes.
“The experience of predicted grades and continuous assessment the past two years has proven that change is possible and a better approach is possible,” he said.
“The voices of young people and students who have recently gone through the process must be central to any change.
“While it’s a welcome move to see new subjects considered on the topic of climate change and the arts, this must go hand in hand of the capacity of every school to deliver these subjects. I am calling for an equality audit of secondary level schools to ensure that they can provide all subjects to the same level.
“We may need to consider looking at remote learning options for pupils in schools without the expertise in a particular subject. All options must be on the table to ensure equality of opportunity and access to education in this country.”