Monday 18 November 2019

Pupils and teachers want work experience to be a bigger part of senior cycle

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Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Pupils, parents and teachers want a new-style Leaving Cert to put a greater focus on work experience for students, as well as the development of life skills, such as online safety and handling social media.

The clear demand for embedding life skills in the curriculum has emerged in the review of the senior cycle being undertaken by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).

There is also an across-the-board appetite for a new approach to assessment, such as more projects and practicals, and spreading exams over a longer period, with a view to reducing stress.

However, teachers remain strongly of the view that any new modes of assessment would be graded externally and not by students' own teachers, the issue that caused the big row in junior cycle reforms.

The themes and trends under discussion are highlighted in a new analysis of the NCCA review by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), which has overseen two rounds of consultations in 41 schools about the sort of reforms people want.

According to the ESRI, the views of parents, teachers and students focus mainly on changing the approach to assessments, with a view to reducing stress and capturing a broader range of student skills.

ESRI researchers reported that the heavy workloads in senior cycle and the pressure to "cover the course" resulted in a focus on rote learning and were seen as having a negative effect on student wellbeing, with students reducing their involvement in sports and social activities in the build-up to the Leaving Cert exam.

"Students were particularly vocal about the impact on their stress levels, with even junior cycle students expressing apprehension at facing the pressure of senior cycle," the report states. Another suggestion that gained traction was flexibility in terms of combining different elements of senior cycle programmes, such as taking Leaving Cert Applied modules alongside some traditional subjects.

One of the report's authors, Emer Smyth, said the exercise had shown the value of listening to young people on issues that affect their lives.

"Young people provide a clear vision of the kinds of learning that would help develop them to their potential and prepare them for the changing world ahead of them," she said.

"Their views should be taken into account in any changes to senior cycle."

The review, which has also involved wider society, is at the point where the NCCA is preparing to draft advice to Education Minister Joe McHugh on the nature, scale and pace of change.

The NCCA is expected to submit its report to the minister by early 2020.

Irish Independent

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