Examinations official criticises ‘relentless pursuit of CAO points’

Developing more specialised third-level courses increases pressure on senior cycle, says Desmond

State Examinations Commission official Tim Desmond said it was welcome that the review of the senior cycle to date to date had highlighted a desire for a broad view of education.

State Examinations Commission official Tim Desmond said it was welcome that the review of the senior cycle to date to date had highlighted a desire for a broad view of education.

 

The “relentless pursuit of CAO points” is having an extreme influence on how students are engaging with teaching and learning, according to a senior State Examinations Commission official.

Tim Desmond, head of examination and assessment, said moves by higher-education institutions to develop more specialised courses is intensifying the points race and inflating the public’s perception of certain courses.

He was speaking at a recent seminar on plans to reform the senior cycle, organised by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.

“I put it to you that nothing will happen in terms of changing the ‘education experience’ for the better unless the CAO system changes significantly to move the pressure point from the end of senior cycle to the end of first year in third-level institutions,” he said.

“Only then can the heat be taken out of the second-level education system and its value beyond serving as an entrance examination be fully realised.”

He said it was welcome that the review of the senior cycle to date had highlighted a desire for a broad view of education which included recognition of the value of achievements beyond academic attainment.

But Mr Desmond said any move to reduce the volume of learning in a reformed Leaving Cert could lead to accusations that the system had been “dumbed down”.

This, he said, could lead to Irish students being adversely affected by any future benchmarking against the UK system or the International Baccalaureate.

Simply “making the school experience ‘nicer’ by reducing content and challenge will not serve those students well in the longer term,” he said.

Challenges

Mr Desmond added that suggestions such as expanding the assessment element of the Leaving Cert over two years – fifth and sixth year – or adding more projects or coursework components would pose challenges.

He said this would approximately double the number of exams which, in turn, would lead to a need for greater numbers of already scarce examiners.

“In a system which is very committed to external assessment where the SEC is currently struggling to appoint the required numbers of examiners for assessment events such as orals, practical examinations and interviews, a word of caution is offered here.

“There is little point in blindly developing assessment structures and proposals which simply cannot be delivered within the school system and school year as they are currently configured.”

He said the new junior cycle’s philosophy of broadening of the assessment was a good thing.

However, looking to the years ahead, he said he was not sure if “having a multitude of assessment tasks eroding teaching time and clogging up the school year will be welcomed or beneficial”.

Mr Desmond said that while no assessment system was perfect, the quality of our State exams stacks up well against what is provided in other jurisdictions.

“Their high levels of fairness, equity, impartiality, openness and transparency with the viewing of scripts, access to component marks and a detailed appeals process places the service provided by the SEC at the top of the leader board in this respect,” he said.