Students oppose ‘inadequate’ plans to move Leaving Cert exams to fifth year

Norma Foley pledges to press ahead with reforms she says will ease pressure on students

Students have expressed serious concern at the Minister for Education’s plan to move some Leaving Cert exams to the end of fifth year.

Under plans announced last year aimed at spreading the burden of assessment over two years, students entering fifth year in September 2023 will sit English and Irish paper one at the end of the academic year.

Irish Second Level Students’ Union (ISSU) president Caitlin Faye Maniti said that while it has campaigned for Leaving Cert reform, the planned changes would not lead to better outcomes for students.

“We cannot fully support these proposed changes with the lack of information, stakeholder consultation and the current inadequate time frame for implementation,” she said.


She added that students have yet to see proposals that cater to the needs of Leaving Certificate 2024 students who wish to repeat and re-sit their Irish and English paper one exams.

In addition, she said the union was not aware of what will happen to students who wish to drop from higher to ordinary level when they enter sixth year.

“With so many gaps in the plan, specifically relating to the cognitive development of boys opposed to girls at the end of sixth year and valid concerns from students regarding the above, we simply cannot support this plan,” she said.

The ISSU and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) are due to host a joint consultative conference this weekend on senior cycle reform to reflect on the likely impact of the planned changes.

Norma Foley has pledged to press ahead with reforms which, she has said, follow calls from stakeholders, including students, to spread the assessment load.

She has pointed out that other senior cycle programmes such as Leaving Cert Applied currently include assessment at the end of fifth year which give students the opportunity to showcase their talents over a longer period of time rather than a single exam at the end of sixth year.

Ms Foley has also pointed to other jurisdictions where there are many examples of exams being taken over a two-year period.

The plan to move English and Irish paper one is the first step of wider reforms that envisage up to 40 per cent of marks in exams being awarded on the basis of projects or continual assessment to be marked by teachers.

The TUI, as well as the ASTI, are opposed to assessing their own students for State certificate purposes and say external assessment and State certification are essential for all written exams and additional components of assessment.

Speaking in advance of the conference, TUI president Liz Farrell said moving English and Irish paper one is “educationally unsound” and would pile additional pressure on students and teachers.

“It would particularly disadvantage those students who develop positive study habits at a later stage or the roughly 25 per cent of students who either do not have access to, or who choose not to take up, the option of transition year,” she said.

“The suggestion that fifth year students can complete a composition and comprehension examination in both languages a year earlier than their previous cohorts disadvantages students unnecessarily,” she said.

She said students must develop as writers in both languages and a two-year cycle of learning is required to enable this.

“A high stakes exam at the end of fifth year would also impact on a student’s preparation in other subjects, for example mathematics. It will also curtail extracurricular aspects of school life so important to a holistic education.”

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent