End CAO points race to ease pupils’ anxiety, says school principal president

Conference hears of ‘huge’ rate of anxiety among Leaving Cert students

Mary Keane, President of National Association Principals and Deputy Principals: ‘Should not our senior cycle provide paths to learning for all our learners?’  Photograph: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Mary Keane, President of National Association Principals and Deputy Principals: ‘Should not our senior cycle provide paths to learning for all our learners?’ Photograph: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

 

It may be time to sever the link between the Leaving Cert and entry to university due to the “huge” rate of anxiety among students, school leaders have warned.

Mary Keane, president of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, said the extent of stress-related illnesses among students was a source of major concern.

She said the Leaving Cert was a key source of anxiety and proposed sweeping reforms to ensure entry to third level does not rely on a high-stakes exam at the end of sixth year.

“The constant focus on the Leaving Cert and CAO points system in the media . . . distracts us from the understanding of what core values must truly lie at the heart of education,” she said.

“Perhaps we must sever the ties between Leaving Cert results and entry to third level?

“Should not our senior cycle provide paths to learning for all our learners, underpinned by the eight principles of the Junior Cycle?

“We can do this by having a system that gives space and time for building the mental, emotional and social capacity of our students.

“I think such reform would be very exciting and would clarify the well-meaning phrase: a well-educated Irish school leaver.”

Senior cycle review

Ms Keane was speaking at the association’s annual conference in Galway, attended by more than 500 principals and deputy principals.

The senior cycle is currently being reviewed by the State’s advisory body on the curriculum, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.

The council published research earlier this year examining the structure, curriculum and assessment methods used in senior cycle across nine jurisdictions, including Finland and Ontario in Canada.

The research showed a wide variation in approach across these countries, although most tended to have more popular pathways into vocational routes than in Ireland.

Ireland currently has the highest proportion of school-leavers in the EU who progress to third level. By contrast, far fewer students here pursue apprenticeships or traineeships.

Ms Keane also told the conference that schools remain underfunded and that austerity-era cuts to funding levels per student have yet to be fully reversed.

She also called on the Government to end parents “voluntary contributions” and to replace then with adequate State funding.

“In an ideal world, every school would receive the funding necessary to realise its educational goals,” she said.

“Perhaps the time is finally here, Minister, to consider abolition of voluntary contributions – and to call on the Department of Finance to provide the finding schools so richly deserve.”