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Junior Cycle reforms leave students unprepared for Leaving Cert, study finds

Study finds teacher professional collaboration and dialogue has increased significantly

Many principals and teachers believe there is a disconnect between the reformed Junior Cycle and more challenging Leaving Cert which is leaving students and teachers underprepared for the demands of senior cycle.

That is one of the findings of a study on the impact of education reforms at Junior Cycle carried out by academics at University of Limerick on behalf of the State advisory body on the school curriculum.

Junior Cycle reforms were aimed at giving students a greater ownership of their learning, boosting collaboration among teachers and reducing the emphasis on written exams.

While the research findings show there is support for the aims of the reforms, there are concerns among principals and teachers over students’ preparedness for the Leaving Cert, which is seen as requiring a greater depth of knowledge.


There is also dissatisfaction with the Junior Cycle written exams, particularly the grading bands and lack of choice in exam papers.

In addition, many teachers and principals said the effort and work involved in classroom-based assessments was not properly valued, even though they boosted students’ engagement and led to the development of important skills.

Overall, researchers found that the full and successful implementation of the reforms, as originally envisaged, was being inhibited by demands such as the perceived importance of the written exams in June.

On a more positive note, principals reported positive changes in teaching and learning practices in classrooms, while across most subjects, teachers were broadly supportive of the learning outlined in their subject areas.

Principals and teachers said students’ confidence levels had improved and they were more aware of what they were learning and that there was an overall increase in student voice.

There were also more positive relationships in the wider school and, in particular, better teacher–student relationships.

Teacher professional collaboration and dialogue also continued to increase significantly.

Many also reported that an emphasis on wellbeing was a welcome inclusion as schools were dealing with an increase in student mental health issues. A small number believed more emphasis should be placed on building resilience to help students deal with challenges they encounter.

The findings also indicate that school culture may play a role in the perception of reforms, with some principals valuing the curriculum changes much more than others.

The report‘s findings are based on interviews with 37 principals and data from a teacher survey across a sample of 100 schools.

Arlene Forster, chief executive of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, said insights from the study will enabled the council to enhance and build on the progress that has been made.

“This robust and rigorous longitudinal study is a major commitment by the council and illustrates the depth and breadth of consideration given to such frameworks and their implementation,” she said.

“The final report later this year will present the study’s full set of findings and assist the council in revisiting the framework and advising on updating it, if and where needed, to support high quality teaching, learning and assessment.”

The final report will draw on the findings across the four years of study and interim reports to explore in detail the core themes emerging and to make recommendations.

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