Friday 22 November 2019

Junior Cert exam faces axe in plans for reform

Katherine Donnelly and Ralph Riegel

THE Junior Cert June exams face the axe under a reform plan soon to land on the desk of Education Minister Ruairi Quinn.

In their place would be continuous assessment of pupils by their own teachers, backed by a system of independent verification.

It is the most radical option in proposals being drawn up by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). An alternative scenario involves retaining written exams only in core subjects, such as Irish, English, maths and science.

The NCCA is also proposing a cap of eight on the number of subjects taken in the Junior Cert, instead of up to 12 or 14

There is widespread agreement that a revamp is essential, with a focus on ensuring that pupils really grasp what they are supposed to be learning.

Mr Quinn favours change, but it remains to be seen what he will want after receiving the NCCA proposals.

Speaking at the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) conference, he signalled support for reducing the number of subjects. Students were doing "too many", he said.

And there was a need for "significant change to the ways in which we document and assess the learning that they achieve.

"It is clear that the Junior Certificate examination has a serious, negative backwash effect on students' learning and is out of line with international practice."

He said the current exam was no longer suitable.

Mr Quinn admitted that making changes would be challenging, not only in financial terms, but also in the change in thinking and professional practice. "We cannot afford to duck those challenges".

Research by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has highlighted a raft of problems with the Junior Cert, including subject overload.


Many teenagers are not suited to a system that judges them only on a single set of written exams, while few benefit from memorising material and regurgitating it in an exam.

Importantly, Junior Cert reform would go hand in hand with a plan to introduce standardised testing for students, at the end of second year.

This is already done with primary pupils at the ages of about seven and 11. It gives schools a picture of how pupils are performing.

The attitude of the unions, which oppose the idea of teachers assessing their students, will be crucial to the reform plan.

Irish Independent

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