Leaving Cert ‘should have greater focus’ on work experience

Concern expressed over lack of ‘rigorous and attractive’ vocational segment in senior cycle

Senior cycle education in secondary school could have a more rigorous vocational dimension, according to an OECD analysis.

Senior cycle education in secondary school could have a more rigorous vocational dimension, according to an OECD analysis.


The Leaving Cert should have a more rigorous vocational focus and give real work-based experience to students, according to a review of senior cycle by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The findings of the Paris-based organisation, which represents 36 wealthy nations worldwide, are to be discussed at a conference in Croke Park on Wednesday. The forum will deal with the development of senior cycle education .

The State’s advisory body on the curriculum – the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) – has been conducting a review of the senior cycle in consultation with thousands of students and hundreds of teachers, parents and other stakeholders.

OECD representatives have also been conducting a policy assessment of senior cycle education in Ireland for the past 18 months.


The organisation’s report is based on participation in the NCCA’s national seminars and visits to schools to listen to the perspectives of teachers, students and school leaders.

Senior OECD analyst Beatriz Pont will present some of their preliminary findings based on this work at Wednesday’s conference. She said Ireland is one of the “high-performing education systems” across OECD countries.

“Our analysis of the current senior cycle shows a range of strengths, including high levels of public trust,” she said.

However, she said the same analysis suggests some areas in which senior cycle could improve.

“For example, stakeholders expressed their concern about not having a more rigorous and attractive vocational segment in senior cycle, one that gives real work-based experience to students and that is delivered in close co-ordination with employers,” she said.

In relation to the review process, Ms Pont said the tailored approach to engage stakeholders in the senior cycle review is an “asset for the development of senior cycle . . . The NCCA succeeded in designing and carrying out an inclusive review process, collecting a range of perspectives that can enrich senior cycle.”


The OECD’s observation on the potential for greater vocational routes chimes with findings from the NCCA’s consultations so far.

An interim report published by the council earlier this year found an appetite for the structure of senior cycle to be made more flexible, with exams spaced out and a much broader array of assessment methods such as projects, teamwork and portfolios.

It also found a desire among groups who were consulted to introduce successful elements from transition year, such as work experience or life skills, into senior cycle.

A public consultation on the review of the senior is continuing until November 1st, 2019. Individuals and organisations are being invited to provide feedback through online surveys or making written submissions (ncca.ie).

The review so far has included consultations with 41 schools, about 2,500 students and hundreds of teachers and parents, as well as feedback with other stakeholders.


The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI), meanwhile, has warned that major curriculum change at senior cycle level should not take place until there is a comprehensive review of the impact of junior cycle changes.

ASTI president Deirdre McDonald says additional work generated by junior cycle changes is just one of a range of new demands on teachers in recent years.

“Many teachers are overwhelmed by their workload. This situation is unsustainable and has to change,” she said.

Against the backdrop of the senior cycle review, the union has commissioned independent research which concludes that major reforms are “not appropriate” in the near future due to factors such as the lack of capacity at school level, uncertainty about the outcomes of junior cycle changes and a “deterioration” in teachers’ working conditions.