Following considerable opposition from teachers and students, the Minister for Education, Norma Foley, has dropped reforms which would see some Leaving Cert exams moved to fifth year from 2024.
The Minister had sought to move Paper 1 for both the English and Irish exams to the end of fifth year, arguing that the move would ease pressure on students by spreading the load over a longer period, and therefore ease anxiety and stress.
However, both teachers and students strongly opposed the measure, with teacher’s representatives describing it as “educationally unsound”, while pupils argued that it would place them under additional pressure and force them to sit an exam when they had not had sufficient time to prepare, and would be a year younger and less mature when producing written work to include essays.
Earlier this month, teacher unions the ASTI and the TUI, along with the subject associations for Irish and English – An Gréasán and INOTE – said that they were “implacably opposed to the plan”, which they believed to be “flawed, educationally unsound” and would “increase stress among students”.
The teachers’ groups also argued that the Department had “not presented educational evidence to support the proposals”. The ASTI added that the reforms were being pushed after “a unilateral decision taken without any consultation with teacher unions.”
Teachers, both in English and as Gaeilge, pointed out that Paper 1 required “that students express themselves through writing, having been exposed to a variety of literature which is assessed in Paper 2”.
“The announcement treats writing and critical thinking as stand-alone courses. There is no evidence that the Department has considered whether this new exam arrangement is aligned to the current English syllabus or benefits learning in any way,” they said in a joint statement.
The Minister’s decision not to go ahead with the plan will likely raise questions as to support for recommendations arising from a review by the national curriculum authority, the NCCA, who had advised a move away from the focus on the high-stakes Leaving Cert at the end of 6th year, and a move towards continual assessment.
Moreover, documents released to Conradh na Gaeilge under a Freedom of Information request showed that the Department of Education was aware of grave concerns raised by the State Examinations Commission who said that moving Paper 1 to the end of fifth year was at odds with good practice relating to integration in language teaching, and indicated a fundamental lack of understanding of the English and Irish curriculum.
The SEC also said that obliging students to sit Paper 1 earlier would significantly disadvantage boys, given their relative level of maturity.
The decision to drop the proposed change will be seen as a setback to the Minister’s plans for reform and to moves towards continual assessment.
It is expected that Ms Foley will tell Cabinet this morning that, having listened to concerns, the Department will not press ahead but will examine the matter further.