Minister for Education Norma Foley has shelved plans for teachers to assess their students as part of an overhaul of the Leaving Cert.
Original plans envisaged that 40 per cent of students’ marks would be based on project work, oral exams or practicals that would be marked by teachers and externally moderated by the State Examinations Commission (SEC).
The revised plans will now see this work assessed by the SEC rather than teachers. Plans for teachers to play a key role in marking their students emerged earlier this year as a flashpoint with teachers’ unions, who are opposed to the move.
Speaking to reporters at the National Ploughing Championship in Co Laois, Ms Foley said there was a need to ameliorate the pressure students find themselves under in their senior year.
“We had the option of pausing everything or driving on with the reforms that students want and I chose to drive on with as much of the senior cycle reform that we can deliver,” she said.
Ms Foley blamed artificial intelligence technology (AI) for her U-turn on the introduction of teacher-based assessment for the senior cycle in secondary schools.
The Minister said in February that the new system would be introduced in two years time, but that has now been “deferred“ to allow time for teachers to train on the use of AI.
She said that reform of an out-of-state senior cycle curriculum needed to be done and implemented, irrespective of the issues with AI.
The Minister said she could sit on her hands and do nothing with the curriculum, but this would not be in the best interests of students.
“It is a testament to our ambition in education that students are of their time. For example, some of the curricula that students are studying at the moment are 20 years old. That is not good enough,” she said.
“I have met students who ask me about the urgency of moving on with it. One student pointed out to me he was studying Business Studies and was very interested in the area of ecommerce. But it was nowhere on his course.
“If our students don’t have the skills and the abilities to meet the challenges of the world in which they live, the 21st century, then we are doing them a disservice an we are doing further education, higher education, apprenticeship, the world of work, we are doing all of it a disservice.”
Ms Foley insisted teacher assessment remains on the table while the SEC researches the “potential role and impact of generative artificial intelligence in teacher-based assessment in particular”.
The Minister said revised subjects – including biology, physics, chemistry and business – will start to roll-out in schools from September 2025, two years earlier than scheduled. Two new subjects – drama, film and theatre studies, and climate action and sustainable development – will be included in the roll-out on a phased basis.
A second “tranche” of revised subjects will roll-out in schools in 2026, with others due to follow annually after that.
Opposition from teachers’ unions and others played a key role in Ms Foley’s decision to drop the first stage of her Leaving Cert reform plans earlier this year. This involved moving some exams for English and Irish from sixth into fifth year, to ease the assessment load on students.
Unions, however, insisted criticised the plans as “half-baked” and “educationally unsound”.
Ms Foley said there has been “significant progress” in moving ahead with her Leaving Cert reform plans announced last year.
“Over the past two years I have visited hundreds of schools and listened to the experiences and feedback from Leaving Certificate classes and it was unanimous that what our students want and need is for broader choice, reduced pressure and they want it now,” she said.
“Today I am pleased to announce that I am accelerating the development of new and revised specifications in nine subjects and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) will work to develop externally assessed components in each subject that are not a traditional written examination.”
An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development review of the Leaving Cert noted the senior cycle and points system generated high levels of stress and anxiety. Its overall purpose seemed “too narrow and rigid” for Ireland’s aspiration of delivering a learning experience at the highest standards.
Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said he fully supported the “prudent” decision by Ms Foley to suspend the teacher assessment plans.
“She will plough on with curriculum change in the senior cycle with an ambitious programme around the Leaving Certificate cycle; while also taking the time to follow best practice and do some research in relation to artificial intelligence,” he said.