Leaving Cert ‘too academic’ say groups consulted in senior-cycle review

Consensus emerges for more technical and creative pathways for Leaving Cert students

The observations will feed into a report to the Minister for Education Joe McHugh. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

The observations will feed into a report to the Minister for Education Joe McHugh. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill


The Leaving Certificate is too narrowly focused on academic learning and is not suitable for students of varying abilities, according to groups consulted as part of an official review of the senior cycle.

A strong consensus has emerged among many schools and students that the current system is too rigid and should have more technical or creative pathways for students whose strengths lie in different areas.

The findings have emerged in a series of consultations with more than 2,500 students and hundreds of parents and teachers as part of a review of the senior cycle by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).

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

Sources familiar with the latest rounds of consultation and discussion say the possibility of including some of the elements of transition year – such as work experience – in the wider senior cycle emerged as a key theme.

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

Work experience and opportunities to sample different and new subject areas were viewed as helpful to students in making decisions about possible future careers.

Rural schools

However, there was also a recognition that these options involve time and resources and that rural schools could find this more challenging.

There was also an emphasis among teachers, students and parents on the need for practical life skills, such as financial literacy, as preparation for the future.

They suggested this could facilitate the development of personal and interpersonal skills and in turn enhance young people’s wellbeing and ability to cope with challenges.

There were also contrasting views on whether to reduce the number of subjects students need to study.

At present, a minimum of six subjects are examined in the Leaving Certificate, including compulsory Irish. Most students, in practice, take seven or eight subjects.

In the consultation, some said this number of subjects meant many students felt overwhelmed or ended up being “taught to the test”, especially where students are aiming to access higher education.

Some schools, parents and students suggested that students should be allowed to do fewer exam subjects and this could provide opportunities for increased specialisation, reduced workload and less pressures on students.

However, some said reducing subjects might have unintended consequences and could have a negative impact on the compulsory nature of Irish.

Some expressed the importance of maintaining the compulsory status of the language and rewarding fluency over memorisation, in order to encourage the spoken language.

Others suggested subjects such as Irish should be divided into compulsory and optional areas. For example, in Irish the language and culture could be compulsory, while literature would be a separate module.

Overall, however, there was no consensus on the number of subjects or modules students should take.