Leaving Cert English: Out with the old, in with the younger

Students encouraged to ‘think a bit outside the box’ in unusual but well-received paper

Young writers featured on what one teacher described as a “radical” English paper as 55,570 students sat the first of the Leaving Cert examinations this morning.

Jim Lusby, an English teacher at the Institute of Education, welcomed how this year’s paper one had established a link with English paper two, showing that “there is no division between language and literature”.

The paper featured an extract from Irish novelist Colum McCann, another from the young English writer and Booker Prize shortlister Fiona Mozley and an illustrated poem by Isaac Rosenberg, who was killed aged 27 on the Western Front during World War One.

Anne Gormley, head of English at Laurel Hill Coláiste in Limerick, said this year’s English paper showed that efforts were being made to align the junior and senior cycle syllabuses.


“The students were challenged to think more for themselves and to think a bit outside the box.”

Students were asked to critique the educational system and analyse its strengths and weaknesses, while another question required them to present a poem in visual format. However, she said, asking them to evaluate a film adaptation of a text and compare it with a written version, as well as assessing the advantages and disadvantages of each of these formats within a 30-40 minute timeframe, was intimidating.

Studyclix.ie teacher Lorraine Tuffy, who works at Jesus & Mary Secondary School in Sligo, said the paper required students to draw from their engagement with studied texts, which was normally reserved for paper two.

“The composition options were broad and varied. Question seven, encouraging students to consider the weight of words, is a particularly relevant task. Essay questions were, for the most part, engaging, with student asked to reflect on the value of personal space and quietness in the modern world, leaders and leadership, and language as a weapon.”

She said overall students were happy with the paper.

Just over 40,000 students sat this year’s higher level paper, while 13,810 took the ordinary level paper.

Kate Barry, ASTI subject representative and a teacher at Loreto Fermoy, said there were no major surprises on the ordinary level paper, with a good range of topics and nothing too difficult.

“There was a nice question on the impact of technology and another asking them to write about what they achieved in life so far, and what they hope to achieve, and it could not have been more inviting.”

However, she said that a question asking candidates to write a diary entry where they represented their school ignored the reality that not all Leaving Cert students were in school and that some of them were in further education or could even be sitting the exam in prison.

Try this at home: Leaving Cert English

Young people are often the recipients of unwanted advice. Write an open letter to all those who have ever offered you unwanted advice. In your letter you should identify some nuggets of unwanted advice you have received, describe your response to receiving such advice, and share your opinion on how and when advice could be appropriately offered.

Your letter may be amusing or serious or both.