Quinn rows back on plans to cap subjects at Junior Cert exam
EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn is rowing back on plans to impose an eight-subject cap on the Junior Cert for students starting second-level next year.
He now says that it will not be a requirement until 2014 -- for pupils doing the exam in 2017 -- but individual schools may decide to introduce it before then.
The move follows concerns from schools, teachers and parents about the short notice of such a radical change. Schools are already involved in detailed planning for next September, talking to prospective students about subject choice and working out staffing needs.
School management bodies and teacher unions, who warned that the 2012 deadline was wreaking havoc, welcomed the minister's announcement, at the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) annual conference.
The decision to put a limit of eight on the number of subjects students take in the Junior Cert exam is part of the drive to improve numeracy and literacy standards.
Students doing too many subjects has been partly blamed for declining literacy and numeracy standards and the poor showing by Irish 15-year-olds in international education surveys. For instance, they are shown to be poor in problem-solving in maths.
There has been a growing trend for students to sit at least 10 subjects in the exam and the sheer volume of material to be covered has encouraged rote learning at the expense of proper understanding.
An Economic and Social Research Institute report concluded that if students took too many subjects it hampered their interaction with teachers -- and that it may well be that many students were taking more than they could realistically master. This year 46,439, or 80pc, of the 56,906 Junior Cert students sat 10 or more subjects, up from 20pc in 1995.
Mr Quinn said yesterday that about 2,000 students take 12 subjects or more and 21,000 take 11 subjects, which was "far too many for most students".
When he announced the limit in July, he said that ideally it would be introduced in 2012. Yesterday he said while there would be no compulsion on schools to change in 2012 or 2013, he would encourage them to do so if possible.
"This will allow more time for literacy and numeracy and assist in the planning for the change that is coming anyway in 2014," he said.
This is a reference to the broader reform of the Junior Cert proposed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, prompted, in part, by concerns about of curriculum overload.
While students will be restricted to eight subjects for exam purposes, the new-style Junior Cert will allow them to study other subjects as well.
A key reform will see less emphasis on the traditional June exams, with up to 40pc of marks awarded by teachers for work done by their students over a two-year period.
Under the new arrangements, students will carry more responsibility for learning, through building portfolios of work, and presenting them for assessment.
Meanwhile, in a further bid to improve learning, a new Numeracy and Literacy Strategy being rolled out at both primary and post-primary level is putting a firmer focus on developing key skills.
At post-primary level, the target is to increase the number of 15-year-old students performing the highest levels in the OECD's PISA test of literacy and mathematics, while halving the numbers performing at the lowest level.