Ask Brian: Can my school provide oral exams for Junior Cert language students?

A longtime ASTI ban means many schools have not provided oral exams, but this is changing

Mary Hanafin as minister for education increased the oral component of Irish from 20 to 40 per cent for Leaving and Junior Cert

Mary Hanafin as minister for education increased the oral component of Irish from 20 to 40 per cent for Leaving and Junior Cert

 

PROBLEM: I am a principal of a large Dublin boys’ secondary school. The ASTI has an embargo on orals for Irish and European languages for the Junior Cert. However, there are many schools that carry these out. Now some parents are asking me why the boys in my school can’t do the same. What bugs me is that doing the orals in the Junior Cert gives a great advantage to students and leads to better Leaving Cert results. I feel I am letting my students down but I can’t win.

ADVICE: As you are aware, the ASTI has had a ban on its members examining their own students in orals in language subjects for the Junior Cert for many years. This directive was observed by the vast majority of schools until 2010. At that time, the then minister for education Mary Hanafin increased the oral component of Irish from 20 to 40 per cent for both Leaving and Junior Cert. This seems to have had an effect on the attitude of some language teachers to the ASTI ban on conducting oral exams with their Junior Cert students.

Official figures show a major increase in the numbers of students and schools who participated in the optional oral test at Junior Cert for the four most commonly sat languages over the past five years.

In Irish, the proportion taking the oral exam has jumped from 4 per cent in 2010 to 32 per cent in 2015 – equivalent to nearly 17,000 students in more than 300 schools.

In French the figure is also up significantly (from 3 per cent to 15 per cent) over the same five-year period. There have also been big jumps with German (2 per cent to 11 per cent) and Spanish (4 per cent to 25 per cent).

With more than 300 out of a total of more than 700 second-level schools throughout the country taking part, it seems that some ASTI members are ignoring the directive.

The union has raised this issue as a new impediment to supporting the Junior Cert reform package. It knows the State Examinations Commission already has huge difficulty recruiting sufficient language teachers to leave their own exam classes for two weeks after Easter each year to conduct the externally assessed Leaving Cert orals.

To suggest that language teachers are ever going to abandon their own students for an entire month – to externally assess Junior Cert orals – is fanciful in the extreme.

Arguably, this issue is now being put on the table by the ASTI to provide a fig leaf for its ongoing refusal to accept the Junior Cert reforms that everybody else is now implementing.

One option is to present your language teachers with the numbers above and suggest that it is no longer morally or ethically acceptable to deny students the opportunity to experience an oral exam at Junior Cert, given its importance in the Leaving.

If they have an ethical difficulty with breaking a union directive, might I suggest this: bring a proposal to your board of management that orals will forthwith be administered to State Examinations Commission standards to all students in your school, but that the results not be forwarded to the commission. Instead, the results could be communicated directly to the parents alongside the official Junior Cert results when published.

In that way, your students will no longer be at a disadvantage when they undergo an externally assessed oral exam for their Leaving Cert.

  • Email your education queries to askbrian@irishtimes.com
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