All you need to know about the new Junior Cert


Modules, short courses and assessments: it all sounds good, but how will the new Junior Cycle work?

What’s the new Junior Cert about?

First things first: it’s won’t even be called the Junior Certificate anymore. The State exam is being abolished and is being replaced from 2014 with a lower-stakes, in-house exam, called the Junior Cycle Programme.

Teachers will devise and correct some – and, eventually, all – the subjects. The timetable will be radically altered, as schools are instructed to introduce a number of short courses, based on local needs and capabilities, to complement the eight to 10 subjects they will offer at exam level.

What’s the problem with the current exam?

The main catalyst for reform was those dismal figures for Ireland in the 2010 OECD rankings which tested 15 years-olds across the developed world.

Ireland slumped from 5th to 17th in reading and from 16th to 25th in maths.

There were other factors. Research shows students weaned on rote learning struggle to cope with independent learning, especially at third level. Meanwhile, ESRI studies indicated how a high percentage of boys disengaged from the Junior Cert and the problem is acute in disadvantaged areas.

The new exam is based on best international practice from the world’s best education systems, including Finland and New Zealand.

So, how will students be marked?

Sixty per cent of their marks will be based on their final exam, while 40 per cent will come from project and portfolio work carried out in schools.

A student’s portfolio should demonstrate how the student has developed, improved and learned from the beginning of second year to the end of third year.

There will be a maximum of 10 subjects. Students can mix and match between traditional subjects and new short courses. Irish, English, maths and science will be compulsory.

Two short courses are the equivalent of one traditional subject.

I have heard a good deal about these short courses. What’s on offer?

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) will initially develop eight short courses for schools. These include Chinese language, digital media literacy, artistic performance, and computer programming and coding.

The NCCA will also provide templates for schools that wish to devise their own courses, and a database of short courses will be created to enable sharing of information between schools.

In deciding on short courses, schools could consider local needs and industries. A school in Killybegs, Co Donegal might, for example, devise a course on the fishing industry.

Or a school in Galway city might look at teaming up with the local successful global games developer Electronic Arts to put together a short course on computer games.

Work on these short courses will be assessed by teachers in schools.

Why would a student bother studying for an in-house exam that gets no State recognition?

We need some perspective here. Students are already assessed by their teachers right through the first three years in second level.

Now, they’ll do a combination of essay, project and portfolio work. Yes, there will be no high-stakes exam at the end but students will still want to do well.

Great, but I like the idea that the Junior Cert is a dry run for the Leaving.

No question – there is an issue here. There will be an adjustment from the loose Junior Cycle programme to the more rigid Leaving Cert exam. Managing this transition will be a challenge. Transition Year may suddenly become a lot more relevant and important.

Many subjects will no longer be compulsory. Will those teachers be on the scrapheap?

Until now, history and geography were core compulsory subjects. Under the new Junior Cycle, many schools will retain both subjects. There are concerns that the subject could be crowded out in some schools. If that happens, history and geography teachers can expect to find themselves involved in creating and delivering short courses based around their experience and capabilities.

Countdown to change


All schools introduce short courses into their curriculum.

Schools begin the new English course, which will be subject to the specifications laid down by the NCCA. Students will be certified in 2017.


New Irish, science and business-studies courses begin. First certification in 2018.


The new modern languages, home economics, music, geography, and art, craft and design courses begin.

First certification in 2019.


Mathematics, technology subjects, religious education, Jewish studies, classics, and history are the last subjects to be introduced into the new Junior Cycle programme. First certification in 2020.

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