Leaving Cert needs ‘mammoth overhaul’ to reduce students’ anxiety, say principals

Call for alternative assessments and reformed entry routes into college

The Leaving Cert needs a “mammoth overhaul” to ease the anxiety facing sixth year students, according to president of the representative body for secondary school principals.

Michael Cregan, outgoing president of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD), told the organisation's annual gathering that the move to teacher-assessed grades over the last two years proved positive for many students.

He said there was “little or no stress and anxiety” for Leaving Cert students who had the option of written exams this year and major changes “did not bring the system to a halt.

“If we are serious about our students’ wellbeing, then we should look at alternative ways of assessment and find alternatives ways, like many other countries , in securing places for our students in third-level colleges or other career choices,” Mr Cregan said.


“Our senior cycle system needs a mammoth overhaul immediately to make it relevant to today’s society Students didn’t fail this year to enter third-level colleges with reduced syllabus content and an alternative means of assessment,” he said.

Mr Cregan said the NAPD supported the an establishment of a new senior cycle reform forum as part of planned Citizens’ Assembly into the future of education.

Modern senior cycle

He also called on the Department of Further and Higher Education to prioritise a review of assessment and entry into third level as soon as possible. Principals have learned over the past 18 months that “we need a sustainable and modern senior cycle programme that is fit for purpose and is reflective of the needs of the students of today,” Mr Cregan added.

It was also time to review the Junior Cycle and look immediately at the volume of classroom-based assessments and assessment tasks.

He also said the “system did not collapse” when the Junior Cert was cancelled and there were much happier 14 and 15-year-olds who were less stressed than previous years as a result.

The fact that assessment tasks have been cancelled for this year’s Junior Cert and the number of classroom-based assessments means students and teachers are much happier. This, in turn, will have a positive impact on teaching and learning.

The workload

The association’s annual meeting also heard that the workload of senior management teams in schools is not sustainable.

“We have a governance, leadership, management, and administration structure that largely hasn’t changed in decades. It is creaking at the seams,” Mr Cregan said.

Boards of managements and chairmen were acting in a voluntary capacity yet had enormous responsibility.

“How sustainable in the 21st century is this model, given the ever-increasing levels of responsibility placed on boards?” he asked.

“We have school leadership teams whose working days are largely taken up with administrative tasks that cannot easily be devolved to others in the leadership team in the school or to extremely busy office staff in the school.”

He said the NAPD is seeking a review of the role and responsibilities placed on boards of management and the overall school governance model to measure how sustainable the model is.

In addition, he said a new model for school administration was needed to allow school leaders to “actually lead teaching and learning, manage the organisation, lead school development and develop leadership capacity in their schools”.

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