In my opinion...: 'Leaving Cert reform must include pre-June assessments'
Last year was, in the main, a year of achievement for Irish second-level schools. But that is not to say our education system, particularly our senior cycle, is without its flaws. Many aspects are old and structural, and will take years to repair. That's why it's important to get to work on them now.
Some require only minor fixes that can be implemented quickly. For a start, the SEC has extended the Leaving Cert timetable so it is less stressful; we can now allow second sittings for students who are tragically bereaved at the time of their exams; and the SEC has brought forward exam script reviews and rechecks so they don't clash with the start of the third-level term. Continued reform and expansion would be greatly welcomed.
We must also remember that third level is not for everyone. Regardless of whether a person has academic flair or valuable practical talents, schools need to not only prepare students to be active citizens, but also provide them with a full range of skills to progress and flourish in a variety of careers in either service, trade or business.
Evolution - long-term reform - is what the Leaving Cert needs. As it is taught now, senior cycle functions as a method of filling places at third-level institutions through rote learning. It does not do what it should: give students the tools they need for lifelong learning, intellectual curiosity and a prosperous, fulfilled life.
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A rote learning system is inherently an inflexible one. Curricular changes over the last decade have been hard fought - and bittersweet. Computer science, for example, long a subject in other European schools, will only be examined at Leaving Cert for the first time this year.
Desire for change is not just within the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals' (NAPD). According to our 2019 report, 'Senior-Cycle Reform: What Do You Want?', 78pc of students said they do not believe the Leaving Cert adequately prepares them for third-level, while 93pc feel the same about its capacity to set them up for the world of work. Most teachers and principals agree.
What can be done and is being done? The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) started a review of senior-cycle education in late 2016 to identify key strengths in our present senior cycle and provide an opportunity to generate a shared vision for change and a strong base from which to shape a curriculum that meets the needs of all learners for years to come.
NAPD supports the NCCA in its collaborative work and we encourage the inclusion of continuous assessments examined outside those three weeks in June as part of the revised Leaving Cert. Where this has already been included in subjects, it has been well received by students, parents and teachers; it removes some of the stress of the crunch examination period and helps encourage more independent learning without having their line of enquiry dictated by the exam. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
The NAPD's hope is that we continue to build a second-level education system that provides for the best possible outcomes for all students. What results from this reform must enrich and stimulate the student body, reward teachers and benefit everyone in Irish society, culture, business, and politics.
Alan Mongey is President of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD)