Private school accused of heating up points race in fourth year

Institute of Education says it is offering a more ‘academic’ fourth year due to demand

Peter Kearns, director of the institute, said it was taking the move in response to growing demand from parents and students. Photograph: Brendan Duffy

Peter Kearns, director of the institute, said it was taking the move in response to growing demand from parents and students. Photograph: Brendan Duffy

 

A private school has sparked controversy by introducing a new programme that it says allows students to cover large sections of the Leaving Cert curriculum over three years.

The policy of the Department of Education is that the Leaving Certificate programme should be taught over a maximum of two years.

A spokeswoman confirmed that schools are not permitted to offer a three-year Leaving Certificate programme.

However, the Institute of Education in Dublin has introduced a new fourth-year programme that includes options to study for a range of international qualifications. These, it says, cover large sections of the Leaving Cert curriculum.

Peter Kearns, director of the institute, said it was taking the move in response to growing demand from parents and students for a more academic element during fourth year.

“There is a growing gap between the Junior Cycle and the Leaving Cert. For the student that wants to be academically challenged, they can find that fourth year isn’t challenging and there’s no end goal.

“We’re finding there are a lot of young people who want more direction and structure. So, we’re introducing these international qualifications because they are the best stepping stone to the Leaving Cert and cover much of the same ground.”

He said the institute had selected the Cambridge International GCSE programme in English, maths, physics, chemistry and biology as it had a close crossover with the Leaving Cert curriculum.

In addition, it is offering new European language proficiency exams in French, Spanish and German.

Exam stress

The institute’s move toward a more academic fourth-year programme has drawn a mixed reaction from some educationalists who say transition year plays a crucial role in easing exam stress for students.

Transition year was introduced into secondary schools in recent decades to help ease some of the pressure around exams and to focus on the social and emotional development of younger people.

“The ESRI has highlighted the enormous pressure on students, and I would be concerned that many middle-class parents will now want their children to face into another exam year,” said Áine Hyland, emeritus professor of education at University College Cork.

She added that research indicated that students who completed transition year went on to do better in the Leaving Cert.

Dr Gerry Jeffers, the former co-ordinator of the Department of Education’s transition year curriculum support service, said the institute was free to design its own curriculum as it is not State-funded.

But he said countries such as South Korea, which has one of the top-ranked education systems in the world, recently opted to introduce a new secondary school programme partly influenced by the Irish transition year.

In response, Mr Kearns said the institute’s fourth-year programme promotes access to a range of extracurricular activities such as debating, charity work, philosophy and training for skills in order to become a lifeguard or barista.

He said the international exams for fourth years were on an “opt-in” basis during fourth year and it was up to students to decide how many, if any, they wished to sit.