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Ask Brian: Will my students be able to take the Irish oral exam this year?

A union directive requiring schools to boycott oral exams has been suspended

Schools and teachers are free to take on the oral exams in this year’s Junior Cert

Question: As a second-level teacher of Gaeilge I have been administering the oral Irish component of the course for the past number of years, but ceased to do so in 2017 due to a directive from my union (the ASTI). What is the situation for this year?

Answer: Up to 40 per cent of Junior Cert students took the oral Irish component of the exam in 2016. Due to the ASTI directive in the past academic year – which was linked to its dispute with Government – the numbers dropped to 32 per cent.

Following a special convention over the summer to accept the terms of the then national agreement, the union’s directive on all oral exams has been suspended.

Schools and teachers are free to take on the oral exams in this year’s Junior Cert if they do wish.

It makes sense to do so, as it will help prepare them for a similar experience in their Leaving Cert oral Irish exam in a few years’ time.

This oral component, worth 40 per cent of total marks, will continue to be examined by the State Exams Commission up to and including 2019.

But big changes are on the way as reforms of the junior cycle are rolled out.

For students currently in their first year of second level education, the existing oral language exams will be replaced by the first classroom-based assessment during their second year in May 2019.

It will not be optional and must be taken by all students.

Students’ assessment will be reported on by means of descriptors by the class teacher.

These will be will be reported on by means of descriptors by the class teacher – “exceptional”, “above expectations”, “in line with expectations” and “yet to meet expectations”.

In short, the assessment of students’ oral language skills will be incorporated into these classroom-based assessments.

This places assessment in the learning context and supports its integration into everyday teaching and learning practices .

This, in turn, will develop and enhance students’ self-awareness and confidence as language users.

The first assessment will require that one piece of text included in the portfolio will be a sound/video piece; the second will be based entirely on students’ oral language competence, including spoken interaction.

In addition, the assessment task – which will be a piece of written work completed by students for assessment by the State Examinations Commission – will be related to the learning outcomes on which the second classroom-based assessment is based.

The new approach ensures all students will now have the opportunity to benefit from and experience the value of participating in the assessment of their oral language skills.

At present, Junior Cert students receive one overall grade based on their achievement in Irish, whether they undertook the optional oral or not.

Under the new new Junior Cycle “profile of achievement”, students’ achievements in classroom-based assessments will be recorded independently of their results in the State exam in the summer.

This experience should lead to more motivated, confident and independent language learners as they embark on the study of Irish in senior cycle.

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