For the second year in a row, the concessions on the Leaving Cert History 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,” according Niall Westman, a Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) subject representative.
Like all Leaving Cert exams this year, the disruption caused by Covid has meant extra choice and fewer questions to answer and, because of the amount of writing involved on the paper, history is one of the subjects where teachers feel particularly strongly about the benefits to students.
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 had to write two essays and answer a documents-based question in the same time period.
Mr Westman, of Mountmellick Community School, 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, a teacher at the Institute of Education, Dublin said the added time was “such a bonus it should be adopted permanently.
Association of Secondary Teachers’ Ireland (ASTI) subject representative Philip Irwin, agreed that the concession to students, which gave them more time to read and write, was “very good”.
Mr Irwin, of The High School, Rathgar, Dublin, 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 between 1945 and 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 1945-89.
The documents-based question was about the Coleraine University controversy in the 1960s, which had a background role in the Northern Troubles. The controversy centred on accusations that the city of Derry had been deliberately denied Northern Ireland’s second university for fear it would fuel Catholic assertiveness on civil rights issues.
The documents supplied were an extract from the autobiography of the late Bishop Edward Daly, describing reaction in Derry to rumours that the university would not be located in the city and a piece by the late trade unionist and human rights activist, Inez McCormack, who was a student at the time. Mr Irwin said students would have been happy with “two good documents and good questions”.
Mr Irwin said while there was no specific question on the civil war, which started 100 years ago this month, there was a question 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 the ones on why Italy and or Germany embraced dictatorship. She added that. “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 Studyclix.ie said the ordinary level exam “was a nice one which gave those students who prepared well the opportunity to achieve a good grade”.
He said it was particularly pleasing to see a number of questions related to 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.”