Leaving Cert students may be assessed over two years

Proposed shake-up could result in biggest changes to State exam in half a century

Leaving Cert students should be assessed on a staggered basis over two years instead of facing a single set of summer exams, according to groups consulted as part of an official review of the senior cycle.

The proposal is one of a series that, if agreed, would amount to the biggest changes in the Leaving Cert in half a century.

The findings are contained in consultations with more than 2,500 students and hundreds of parents and teachers across 41 schools as part of a review of the senior cycle by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.

The proposals will feed into a report to Minister for Education Joe McHugh later this year with proposals for reforming the senior cycle.


Sources say a consensus has emerged across schools, parents and students that the structure of senior cycle should be made more flexible, with exams spaced out and a much broader array of assessment methods such as projects, teamwork and portfolios.

Schools, students and parents agree the current system is “too academic” and should offer more vocational and technical pathways.

Mixing curriculums

One proposal that has gained significant support is to give students the opportunity to take some subjects in the established Leaving Cert, and others in more vocational programmes such as the Leaving Cert Applied.

There is also an appetite to introduce successful elements from transition year, such as work experience or life skills, into senior cycle.

Research indicates that meaningful work experience is a highly valued and popular part of transition year and can lead to apprenticeships, traineeships or employment.

There is also a consensus that there should be a broader range of assessment methods such as project and practical work, interviews, presentations, portfolios and group projects or teamwork.

These assessments could be spread over a much longer period of time, such as exams at the end of fifth and sixth year, or a credit-based system where students can accumulate marks with project work.

Student support

Students, in particular, support the continuous assessment via regular class tests that could add up to an overall grade.

Teachers have insisted that these elements should be externally assessed rather than marked by teachers.

A major concern has emerged on the effect of the points system on teaching and learning , with many schools stating that reforms would not be effective without changes in the higher education entry process.

There has been no consensus, however, on whether to reduce the number of subjects students are required to study.

At present, a minimum of six subjects are examined in the Leaving Cert, including compulsory Irish, although most students take seven.

In the consultation, some said too many students felt overwhelmed or ended up being “taught to the test”, especially where students were aiming to access higher education.

Others, however, warned that cutting the number of subjects could undermine the compulsory nature of Irish.

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