In My Opinion: The eight-subject limit in 2012 is putting the train before the tracks
In the coming weeks a number of second-level schools will hold open days/evenings for parents of prospective students. These events aim to give parents a feel for "what it's like to be a student here".
It is unfortunate, therefore, that schools have been left in an information vacuum in relation to what subjects they are offering next year. This is due to the recent announcement that students entering second-level schools in September 2012 will be limited to eight examinable subjects in their Junior Certificate. The problem? No school in the country knows how this will work.
Who will decide what these subjects are? Will they be the same for every student in a school? Will subjects be dropped by schools? What will fewer subjects at Junior Cert mean for the Leaving Cert? These are the questions causing concern amongst parents, schools and teachers.
An additional source of anxiety for teachers is the implications for teaching and learning if classrooms consist of students who are taking the Junior Cert exam in a subject sitting alongside students who are not taking the exam.
As it is, many Junior Cert classes contain up to 30 young teenagers, including honours, ordinary and foundation-level students, together with students with special education needs and English language learners. The added practicalities for teachers of teaching exam and non-exam students together, while endeavouring to cover the course, meet individual needs, and motivate them throughout the year, are likely to be overwhelming.
There is no doubting the consensus that the Junior Cert needs to be reformed.
Teachers have long expressed the belief that the programme is suffering from content overload and that teachers and students are so tied up trying to complete courses they can miss out on time for active and reflective learning. This is why the ASTI engaged with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) on the revision of a number of Junior Cert syllabi in order to make space for more balanced learning. This will tie in with the wider reform which, according to current proposals, will be introduced in 2014.
The decision to implement one aspect of Junior Cert reform in 2012 is akin to putting a new train on a new route before the train tracks have been put down.
More importantly, the announcement of the 2012 eight-subject limit comes at a time when parents are making final decisions about schools, and schools are making decisions about timetables.
There is an urgent need for engagement with those affected by this announcement. There is an urgent need for clarity so that parents, schools and teachers can plan. There is an urgent need to give the partners in education the message that reform of the Junior Cert is worth doing and is not just change for the sake of change.
Brendan Broderick is president of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland