A report proposing sweeping changes to the way the senior secondary school cycle is examined following the Junior Certificate programme has been agreed for consideration by the Department of Education.
The report was compiled by the Joint Committee on Education, Further & Higher Education, Research, Innovation & Science.
The Cathaoirlech of the committee is Deputy Paul Kehoe and speaking to the Enniscorthy Guardian he outlined the nature of the report, which includes a number of key recommendations, and the reasoning behind it.
"This follows on from the committee’s work we did on Covid and Third Level education,” said Deputy Kehoe.
“The Covid 19 pandemic forced seismic changes in the education system and the Leaving Certificate went ahead despite serious challenges," he added.
"This was a very topical issue during the Covid pandemic where the Leaving Cert utilised different types of models and there was a big debate around reform of the Leaving Cert and whether or not there should be one big exam at the end of it."
Deputy Kehoe said that’s a debate that has gone on for many years and his personal view is that the Leaving Cert should not be based on one exam after a lifetime of education up to that point.
“There should be some form of ongoing assessment,” he said.
"You have to have some sort of exam at the end of your education but there should also be ongoing assessment and that is reflected in the report,” he added.
"What got me during the hearings was the appetite by everyone involved to have some form of reform of the Leaving Cert.”
He also expressed delight that the Minister for Education announced some changes for Leaving Cert reform but added: “I still believe there is a lot more that we can do than what is there at the moment.”
Deputy Kehoe said the committee is of the strong view that now is the opportune time to fundamentally reform the senior cycle for the benefit of students, teachers and socuety in general.
“The committee sought and received written submissions from a wide range of stakeholders,” he said.
“The quality of the evidence based on comprehensive research findings and the knowledge and insights provided were of tremendous assistance in preparing this report,” he added.
With regard to a timeframe on when the proposed changes might be implemented, if the Department of Education is agreeable, Deputy Kehoe said: “We have now given that report to the Department of Education and we will now be looking for updates from the department.”
He also highlighted that the department could turn around and reject the proposals contained in the report, however, he doesn’t expect that to be the case and said it would be very disingenuous of the department if that’s what happens.
“What we are hoping is that the department will pick out parts of and say yes, this is a good idea or that part isn’t so good, or we could broaden a specific proposal out and that we will implement some parts of it,” he said.
“That’s what we hope will happen."
Deputy Kehoe said the pressure on students nowadays is “massive” and ever-increasing on a daily basis and said the stress it’s causing students is enormous.
"I believe that ongoing assessment would give students an opportunity not to have the same levels of stress as they currently have,” he said.
Even if the proposals are accepted in part of in full by the department there will be a lead-in period and it’s not something that will affect the current Fifth Year or TY students and is more likely to be something that will come into effect for the current cohort of First and Second Year students across the country.
"There will be a lead-in timeframe,” he said.
“Some of the issues we spoke about including things such as digital learning and assessment options but there are some smaller things that could be implemented immediately but on the whole there would be a lead-in period of between three to five years on a lot of this stuff,” he added.
“When you go into Fifth Year, well you know exactly what way your Leaving Cert exam is going to be so you can’t change it for a Fifth or Sixth Year student now because you have to give them an opportunity so the ones that might see some Leaving Cert reform might be in Second or Third Year at the moment.”
Deputy Kehoe said the committee tried to limit the number of recommendations and that resulted in it coming up with 10 key points.
“The reformed the junior cycle quite a number of years ago and that’s when it changed from the Inter Cert to the Junior Cert but they never changed the Leaving Cert so one of our first recommendations is that the Leaving Cert would be renamed the Senior Certificate,” said Deputy Kehoe.
"Some of the work that students would do in Transition Year, and a lot of students do a lot of work in TY, well that should be part of the Leaving Cert as well,” he added.
"There is a huge amount of work goes on in Transition Year that often gets forgotten about.”
He said another recommendation in the report is that two modules in all subjects are completed over the senior cycle in Fifth and Sixth Year so that everything isn’t pushed in to the very end.
“There is a module one and two over Fifth and Sixth Year,” he said.
However, he emphasised that introducing Leaving Cert reform is not just a case of the minister saying it and it will be done because stakeholder organisations including teachers’ unions have to be involved.
"There will have to be a huge buy-in to this,” said Deputy Kehoe. Over the last couple of years because of the pandemic there was a major turn towards remote learning and while it’s not something that suits everybody Dep Kehoe said it’s another aspect of education that has to be considered but a number of factors have to taken into account.
“There is no use having remote learning if only some students have good quality broadband and more students don’t have it,” he said. “There has to be parity and everyone has to be treated the very same.”
He emphasised again the enormous pressure on students from Fifth Year on and said something has to be done to help alleviate that.
Deputy Kehoe said another aspect of the report and one of the key recommendations is that a significant investment be made into school library services.
“When you go to Third Level school you’re doing research and everything and to get second level students used to doing research etc there should be a class 1 library in every secondary school,” he said.
“Particularly for Fifth and Sixth Year students because its moulds them and gets them ready for when they go to college and what’s expected of them,” he added.
“We would hope there would be some form of national strategy for the school library with a key recommendation that there would be a class 1 school library in every secondary school.”
He said the committee would like to see that recommendation implemented by the end of 2024 and said the organisation for school libraries has been looking for such a measure “for years”.
"There should also be a school librarian there who would be accessible and able to help students,” said Deputy Kehoe.
"There are a lot of students going to Third Level who haven’t a clue how to use a school library, what it’s about or how to use it.”
Deputy Kehoe said the committee examined the evidence presented to the members and the submissions received before drawing up the report which he said contained “concrete and feasible recommendations”.
"The committee genuinely believes these can be implemented without delay and will have a transformative impact on the senior cycle,” he said.
“The committee is committed to ensuring these recommendations are implemented as expeditiously as possible,” he added.
He also said the committee is requesting that the issues raised in the report be the subject of a debate in both Houses of the Oireachtas.
Deputy Kehoe said a very beneficial aspect in compiling the report was the fact that students were brought in to talk about it and express their views on Leaving Cert reform.
“This is going to be affecting them and they are the ones who know best.”