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Writing must be on the wall for pen and paper in Leaving Cert


Clive Byrne

Clive Byrne

Clive Byrne

It is encouraging to hear recent soundings from the Department of Education and Skills that indicate a willingness to bring in a raft of proposed changes to make the Leaving Cert exam fit-for-purpose in the 21st century. These include practical tests in biology, chemistry and physics to complement the traditional written exams.

Reform is also being proposed to reduce the Leaving Cert's grading bands from 14 to eight, which will put less pressure on students to achieve marginal gains in examination performance.

Continuous assessment is something that should also be considered seriously. It is unfair that six years of learning be graded on the performance of a three-hour exam.

Some state exams could be held after fifth year, which could count towards a total CAO points score. The points process should also be open to marking students continuously through project work, portfolio build up, practical tests and even multimedia presentations.

During Mary Hanafin's tenure as minister for education, the maximum marks awarded for the Leaving Cert Irish oral test was increased to 40pc of the total grade. The success of this progressive step is evident in the continuing increase in students taking the "honours" paper.

There has been an upsurge in student participation in higher level maths, due to the 25 bonus points. It would be worth also exploring the idea of assigning bonus points to subjects that are relevant to the course for which student applied, as suggested in a discussion document from the Irish Universities Association (IUA).

In recent weeks, we have seen the encouraging outcomes of the first year of a feasibility study at Trinity College Dublin exploring mechanisms for selection for entry to college, over and above exclusive reliance on CAO points, such as a personal statement from a student about why they are interested in a particular course of study, as well as the student's Leaving Certificate performance relative to others in their school.

In addition to these education-based reforms, however, there are a number of additional and more practical changes that I would like to see introduced to improve how the Leaving Cert system operates.

A phasing out of pens and the 47.7 million sheets of A4 paper used in our state exams would be prudent. Most people at work and third-level institutions operate keyboards instead of notepads. If we want to be a world leader in information technology, then our education system must reflect this.

I would also like to see the process for appealing Leaving Certificate grades quickened, so that final points scores are settled before the CAO offers are made. Last year, over 1,600 Leaving Cert results were upgraded upon appeal, but students are not advised of the outcomes until mid-October - several weeks after the college year has started.

As society changes, so too must the means by which we educate and test students. The challenge is striking the appropriate balance between maintaining the positives of our current state exams and changing those that are no longer fit for purpose.

Our education system must remain relevant and, to do this, it must be dynamic and always evolving, and open and capable of reform.

Clive Byrne is the Director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD)

Irish Independent