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Education committee chair criticises Minister Norma Foley for not moving quicker on Leaving Cert reform

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Oireachtas Education Committee chair Paul Kehoe said he was “disappointed” that the changes to senior cycle were not higher up the priority list. Photo: Colin Keegan

Oireachtas Education Committee chair Paul Kehoe said he was “disappointed” that the changes to senior cycle were not higher up the priority list. Photo: Colin Keegan

Education Minister Norma Foley. Photo: Frank McGrath

Education Minister Norma Foley. Photo: Frank McGrath

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Oireachtas Education Committee chair Paul Kehoe said he was “disappointed” that the changes to senior cycle were not higher up the priority list. Photo: Colin Keegan

Oireachtas Education Committee chair Paul Kehoe has criticised his coalition colleague Norma Foley for not moving quicker with Leaving Cert reform.

Mr Kehoe said he was “disappointed” that the changes to senior cycle were not higher up the education minister’s priority list.

Mr Kehoe also told a committee hearing that he did not believe there was an appetite within the Department of Education for the change.

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Education Minister Norma Foley. Photo: Frank McGrath

Education Minister Norma Foley. Photo: Frank McGrath

Education Minister Norma Foley. Photo: Frank McGrath

The Fine Gael TD made his comments at the latest in a series of round-table discussions on Leaving Cert reform that the committee is conducting with education stakeholders.

Ms Foley is currently considering a report from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) on wide-ranging changes to both curriculum and assessment at senior cycle, including a move to less focus on terminal exams.

Mr Kehoe told the committee that ”you can talk about reform, but there has to be an appetite for reform”.

He said that the experience of Covid had everyone talking about the need for Leaving Cert reform, but “I don’t think the appetite is there within the Department”.

Mr Kehoe said the Department had the NCCA report and he was disappointed that they had not published it yet and also disappointed that the minister did not have it higher up her priority list.

“I would plead with the minister today to publish it,” he said, adding that It would give a greater understanding where the NCCA was coming from on the issue.

Mr Kehoe said it was important that Ms Foley and her officials prioritise the issue, as changeovers of minister priorities can change.

Today’s discussions involved representatives of the Irish Universities Association (IUA), Technological Higher Education Authority (THEA), Higher Education Colleges Association (HECA), which represents colleges in the private sector, and Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI) .

There was widespread agreement on the need for changes, including how and when students are assessed, the issue that is likely to generate most debate when the NCCA report is published.

THEA CEO Dr Joe Ryan said Ireland was an outlier in its historic reliance by secondary education on terminal exams, which, he added, favoured a particular type of intelligence.

He said the lessons from Covid, the embrace of a digital world, and the technical facility of younger generations suggest that other forms of assessment should be explored. He said it would require buy-in by stakeholders, but the benefits for learning and student welfare were indisputable.

Griffith College founder and HECA chair Professor Diarmuid Hegarty, told the committee there should be more novel forms of assessment such as group work, presentations, podcasts, video, and blogging.

He said consideration should also be given towards credit for achievements outside the classroom, such as community activities, sporting and personal achievements which could be used for progression to third-level.

Ken Whyte of ETBI said the current Leaving Cert was designed only to assess a particular amount of knowledge at a point in time.

Mr Whyte said reform should aim to challenge social inequality by actively enabling the progression options best suited to the learners’ aspirations and interests, including paths to apprenticeships, further education, higher education and traineeships.

He said literacy and numeracy deficits in certain students remained major concerns and improved post-primary level supports in these areas are an essential part of reform.

The hearing also touched on the issue of Leaving Cert grade inflation in the past two years, linked to the use of teacher-estimated marks, with calls to ensure that there was a return to a more stable results pattern next year.

Among the consequences about which speakers expressed concern was how the record results disadvantaged CAO applicants from other years.

In his submission to the hearing, IUA director Jim Miley said it had also become impossible to allocate scarce places in high demand courses equitably on the basis of the grade inflation.

He said it presented the universities with stark choices: removing the Leaving Cert from the CAO process and replacing it with a separate assessment process run by the universities, or using a supplementary mechanism such as interviews or school references in order to select students.

But they have been ruled out because while they may have worked in the past when higher education enrolments were just a fraction of those nowadays, they are not considered practical, student-friendly or cost-effective.

Mr Miley said the only viable option for entry to higher education was a system of State-accredited grades, and that the Department of Education must revert immediately to an agreed and stable grade distribution model.


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