Leaving Cert deemed by just 4% of pupils as fair test of knowledge

Vast majority of students want continuous assessment to ease summer exam pressure

Just one in 25 Leaving Cert students believe the exam is a fair and accurate assessment of their knowledge and skills, according to a new survey.

The study also found a vast majority of students (76 per cent) support a move towards continuous assessment to help ease the pressure and stress linked to summer exams.

However, the poll of students, parents and teachers shows very mixed views on whether the Leaving Cert system should be reformed.

For example, students are the only group who would support a teacher correcting their own students’ assessment (51 per cent). These support levels drop significantly among parents (30 per cent) and principals, deputy principals and teachers (22 per cent).


The findings are contained in a survey report, Senior Cycle Reform – What Do You Want?, commissioned by the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD).

It is based on responses from hundreds of students who completed the Leaving Cert in the past five years, as well as hundreds of principals, deputy principals and teachers.

The finding comes at a time when policymakers are reviewing the senior cycle with a view to producing proposed reforms later this year.

Parental view

Overall, a tiny proportion of students (4 per cent) feel the Leaving Cert is fair and is an accurate assessment of what they have learned. A small minority of parents (15 per cent) and teachers (28 per cent) also feel it accurately assesses students.

The vast majority of students believe the exam does not prepare them for third level (78 per cent) or for the world of work (93 per cent). There were similar, though less pronounced, trends among parents and teachers.

A majority of teachers (60 per cent) felt the Leaving Cert did not prepare students for third level, while there was a more even split among parents (52 per cent).

Clive Byrne, NAPD director, said that, initially, it was unsettling to see so few students, principals, deputy principals and teachers feel the Leaving Cert in its current format is fair and accurately assesses students.

‘Appetite for change’

“However, and more importantly, what it also points to is a huge appetite for a change among all stakeholders,” he said.

In response to the report’s findings, the NAPD has set out recommendations to support senior cycle reform.

They include the establishment of a new citizens’ assembly on education bringing together all stakeholders to fast-track the senior cycle reform process.

It also wants the inclusion of an additional practical component as part of the Leaving Cert exam assessment process.

“These recommendations are realistic, achievable and, most importantly, will modernise our education system which has fallen behind the technological advancements in all other sectors,” Mr Byrne said.

He said reform needed to be prioritised by the Minister for Education and policymakers involved in reviewing the senior cycle.

“We have seen small changes over recent years . . . However, we need more than small steps. We in the NAPD want to lead the voice for change, and to ensure this critical conversation continues,” he said.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent