Extra lab funding needed to avoid ‘unfair’ advantage under Leaving Cert reforms

Senior cycle changes will require physics, chemistry and biology students to complete science investigations worth 40% of marks

The Department of Education said it is open to a school authority to make an application for additional accommodation for science laboratory provision. Photograph: Getty Images

Secondary schools may need additional laboratory facilities under new Leaving Cert reforms to help ensure students in less well-equipped settings are not put at a disadvantage, according to an internal Department of Education report.

Under senior cycle changes due across second-level schools from September next year, students will be required to complete science practicals worth 40 per cent of marks from fifth year in subjects such as physics, biology and chemistry.

However, a report received by Minister for Education Norma Foley from a group she established to oversee these planned reforms notes that the availability of laboratory space and science equipment “varies considerably from school to school” according to stakeholders.

“A case has been made to us that some schools will require additional facilities and resources, and that a minimum or recommended schedule of science equipment for schools should be established,” the report states.


“It is argued that this would help to ensure equitable access to the facilities and resources necessary for students to engage in the types of activities involved in additional assessment components in the science subjects. The board believes this argument has much merit.”

There is little time available to upgrade school facilities, however, given that the revised curriculum for biology, chemistry and physics will be introduced in schools from September 2025.

The comments are contained in the latest Senior Cycle Redevelopment Programme Delivery Board report to Ms Foley, dated March 2024. The board is chaired by former chief inspector at the department, Dr Harold Hislop.

The Irish Science Teachers’ Association and the Irish University Association are among those to have raised concerns in recent months that students in more affluent schools may have better access to laboratory equipment and technicians, putting them at an unfair advantage.

Both organisations noted, for example, that the provision of laboratory technicians to all schools is important, but at present is “mainly confined to fee-paying schools”.

The last audit of school laboratories in 2002 found that an investment of €142 million would be needed to bring them up to world-class standards.

A more recent report by the State Examinations Commission in 2018 warned that “it would not be safe to assume that laboratory facilities and equipment in schools are currently of a sufficient standard to support a roll-out of this model of practical assessment without further investment, the scale of which remains to be determined”.

In response to queries from The Irish Times, a Department of Education spokesman said it was examining how schools can be supported in the introduction of the new science curricula.

“This will include considering any resource and facilities’ needs ahead of the introduction of revised specifications for those entering fifth year in 2025.”

He added that it is not intended that students’ practicals will be solely restricted to laboratory-based work.

More generally, he said the department provides science laboratories with the construction of all new post-primary schools and such facilities may also be provided where a big building or refurbishment project is being delivered for an existing school.

The department said it is open to a school authority to make an application for additional accommodation for science laboratory provision.

It is also open to existing schools to apply for a refurbishment of its science labs, including replacement of equipment, under the summer works scheme.

The furniture and equipment (F&E) section within the department also processes requests for replacement of broken and obsolete F&E for specialist rooms (including science labs).

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