Leaving Cert reform envisages ‘curriculum for all’ recognising broader student skills

Advisory report seeks to strike a balance between conservation and change

If you’re a student, parent or employer seeking urgent and sweeping changes to the Leaving Cert , then look away now.

A major advisory report on proposals to reshape the senior cycle – due to be published by the Minister for Education shortly – advocates the kind of incremental reform that will likely take years to draw up, never mind fully implement.

In its own words, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment advisory report aims to "strike a balance between conservation and change so that every student can experience meaningful learning and achievement in a redeveloped senior cycle".

So, what changes are on the cards?


In many ways, the reforms would make the regular or established Leaving Cert of the future look a lot like the Leaving Cert Applied.

In short, it envisages a “curriculum for all” which recognises a much wider range of students’ skills and achievements, rather than a heavy emphasis on end-of-school exams.

The Leaving Cert Applied, for example, has a modular structure which allows students to earn credits for modules over the course of two years.

Assessment includes assignments, tasks, interviews and oral examinations, in addition to written exams.

Work experience is also a significant portion of the course, and marks are awarded for final exams, attendance and course work.

Students who leave the programme before completion can return to the programme with their previous credits “banked” and continue their studies.

Perception and status

But the problem with the Leaving Cert Applied centres around its perception and status.

It doesn't qualify for CAO points, which limits options for students wishing to progress to higher education.

It also doesn’t allow students to “mix and match” between the established Leaving Cert and the applied version.

The proposed reforms, however, would aim to dismantle ring-fencing between the Leaving Cert programmes and ensure there is more parity of esteem across choices and vocational options.

So, how long would this take?

It envisages fleshing out the proposals over a three-stage process, resulting in a new framework for the senior cycle.

This is likely to take at least three years, given that each stage will take between 12 and 18 months to complete, with some overlap between stages.

The first will stage will involve audit of the curriculum components and assessment and reporting procedures within the current senior cycle.

For example, it will identify the implications of removing the ring-fencing of the Leaving Cert Applied programme, which restricts applicants from completing the established Leaving Cert.

It will also aim to identify the most effective aspects of existing programmes – including transition year – which could be incorporated into redeveloped senior cycle pathways.

The second stage will be the exploration and development of the pathways available to senior cycle students.

This, for example, may include looking at pathways from school to further education and training, developing apprenticeship taster modules that could become an integrated part of a redeveloped senior cycle programme.

The third stage will move towards the publication of a framework for senior cycle with a focus on curriculum, assessment, certification, transition and reporting arrangements.

In other words, change looks set to be slow and modest in scope, but significant nonetheless.

It is likely a recognition of what happened with ambitious Junior Cycle reforms, which ended up getting bogged down in lengthy disputes with teachers' unions.

The current Leaving Cert may disappoint those looking for sweeping reform; it may frustrate those who feel the system isn’t broken.

In pitching changes somewhere between the two, however, the plan may represent the best chance of the reforms being realised.