Leaving Cert English: The perfect riposte to the age of ‘covfefe’

Higher level English paper one: Candidates who read widely ‘richly rewarded’

Leaving and Junior Cert students at Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Clontarf, Dublin talk about their first day of exams.

 

Students and teachers have reacted positively to higher level English paper one, with no major shocks or surprises to throw them.

“This was a wonderful examination paper,” said Jim Lusby, a teacher at the Institute of Education. “In the age of ‘covfefe’ and other distortions, it holds to the convictions that language is precious and critical thinking essential. It richly rewarded candidates who read widely, who are sensitive to the power and beauty of language and who think independently. At a time when the Irish education system is being criticised for failing to promote critical thinking in second-level education, this is the perfect riposte.”

“This year’s theme - different worlds - could not be more contemporary or urgent,” said Mr Lusby.

“The chosen texts continued the welcome trend in recent years of insisting that language and literature are one, that papers one and two are actually separate parts of the same subject. One of the texts was by the American writer Paul Auster, a second was on the Scottish poet and artist Robert Montgomery, and the third was by the English historian Timothy Garton Ash. All were both stimulating and challenging, as were the comprehension questions set on them.”

He added that the compositions included a good range of thought-provoking writing tasks. One particularly interesting task asked students to write a dialogue in dramatic form promoting their invention of the wheel in the Stone Age.

Anne Gormley, a teacher at Laurel Hill Coláiste, said that the paper was quite reasonable, with an interesting and diverse range of compositions. “Writing a short story based around a tattoo just shows us how much life has changed,” she said.

“But the topics of the compositions and the question B have remained much the same as other years. There were also opportunities to harness the creative capacity of students. An interesting and different type of question B offered students the opportunity to showcase their knowledge and love of poetry. The article on the Scottish poet Robert Montgomery made for interesting and accessible reading and responded to the ‘modern’ flavour of the paper. Finally, writing about childhood memories and how song and dance play a part has always been a popular topic.”

Meanwhile, Mr Lusby said that paper one was “a delight” for ordinary level students. “This was the most student-friendly paper in years, a perfect fit for students at this level.” The theme of the paper was “school days” and the texts included an article by the contemporary Irish writer Donal Ryan, extracts from the person story of Nujeen Mustafa (a Syrian refugee with a disability) and a combination of written and visual elements exploring schooldays past and present.