Covid-related concessions on the Leaving Cert History higher-level paper have turned it from being a “speed-writing test to one where students can think a lot more and get their knowledge on to paper”, a te achers’ representative has said.
The disruption the pandemic caused to education has meant extra choice and fewer questions to answer and, because of the amount of writing involved, history is a subject where teachers feel particularly strongly about the benefits.
Instead of having to write three essays and answer another question, based on documents supplied, in two hours and 50 minutes, in 2021 and 2022, students instead had to write two essays and answer one documents-based question.
Niall Westman, a Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) representative who teaches Mountmellick Community School in Co Laois, said it was a very fair exam, helped by the reduction in the number of essays to be written. He said with three essays “you can have really good students who are slow writers and don’t do as well as they should”.
Susan Cashell, of the Institute of Education, Dublin, said the added time was “such a bonus it should be adopted permanently”.
Association of Secondary Teachers’ Ireland (ASTI) representative Philip Irwin, of the High School, Rathgar, Dublin agreed that it was “very good” that students had more time to read and write.
Mr Irwin liked the broad nature of the questions, which students could “go at” because of the extra time, although he said the one on the strengths and weaknesses of the US economy 1945-1989 was “daunting”.
On the other hand, Ms Cashell thought there was good choice and “lovely questions” in the US section, including the one on the economy and another on developments in race relations 1945-1989.
The documents-based question was about the Coleraine University controversy in the 1960s. Mr Irwin said students would have been happy with “two good documents” – one an extract from the autobiography of the late Bishop Edward Daly, and the other a piece by the late trade unionist and human rights activist, Inez McCormack – and the “good questions”.
Mr Irwin said that while there was no question on the Civil War, which started 100 years ago this month, there was one on what factors in the 1912-1920 period led up to the partition of Ireland.
Ms Cashell said the dictatorship section had enough choice to allow the well-prepared student to be able to answer one question, especially those on why Italy and or Germany embraced dictatorship. She added: “Those who had studied Stalin had to be careful to note that the question included peace and war.”
Jamie Dockery, of Tyndall College, Co Carlow and Study-clix.ie, said the ordinary level exam “was a nice one”.
He was particularly pleased to see a question on significant women who contributed to Irish and world history, with Isabella Tod, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, Evie Hone, Maureen O’Hara, Leni Riefenstahl, Simone de Beauvoir, Margaret Thatcher and Betty Friedan among those making an appearance.
Earlier, replacing terminal exams like the Leaving Cert with a system of continuous assessment was among the topical issues on a “friendly paper” for Leaving Cert French higher-level students,
Corinne Gavenda, of the Institute of Education, said there was excellent choice, but “with some little twists which would require students to read the questions fully”.