Plan to reduce focus on ‘stressful’ final exams in Leaving Cert reforms

Senior-cycle reform includes access to apprenticeships, voluntary work and life skills

The 68-page senior-cycle reform report acknowledges that the emphasis on final exams is seen by many as causing a ‘negative backwash’ in teaching and learning. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

The 68-page senior-cycle reform report acknowledges that the emphasis on final exams is seen by many as causing a ‘negative backwash’ in teaching and learning. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

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New plans to reform the Leaving Cert include reducing the focus on stressful end-of-school exams in June and creating a “curriculum for all” that includes options for senior-cycle students such as apprenticeships, voluntary work and life skills.

The Irish Times understands that the proposals are contained in a 68-page report on senior-cycle reform due to be given to Minister for Education Norma Foley shortly.

While there is broad agreement that exams should remain, the report envisages giving greater weighting to continual assessment, projects or other course components over a two- or three-year period.

The report acknowledges the current emphasis on end-of school exams is seen by many as causing a “negative backwash” in teaching and learning, which is leading to “unacceptable levels of stress” in the run-up to exams.

The potential of technology to support a greater diversity of approaches to assessment is also recommended.

Points system

While exams and assessment results would continue to provide a basis for selection into higher education, it says the CAO points system will need to be reviewed and revised to reflect changes introduced in a redeveloped senior cycle.

In addition to traditional subjects, it envisages taster modules for apprenticeships or other technical, professional, enterprise or creative areas of learning.

Some of these, it says, could be developed with external bodies or agencies and take place in “off site” settings, such as further education colleges.

It also emphasises the importance of “learning for life” which could be gained through voluntary or community work, PE and work experience, along with a revised sex-education course that meets the needs of students today.

Increased specialisation

Senior cycle should also support “increased specialisation” by students as they orient themselves towards adult life and select subjects and modules in a combination suited to their interests.

The report by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) is based on extensive research and consultation with teachers, students, parents and others over the past four years.

It envisaged fleshing out the proposals over time, resulting in a new framework for the senior cycle.

To be successful, the report says it will require “collective initiative” on the part of all stakeholders; high-quality training for teachers; and guidance for students and parents to navigate redeveloped pathways and curriculum.