Review supports need for continuous assessment in Leaving Cert, say principals

Senior cycle review highlights high stress levels for students facing ‘high stakes’ exam

Secondary school principals say the findings of a review into the senior cycle support its calls for including continuous assessment as part of a reformed Leaving Cert.

On Tuesday, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) published the findings of its interim review of the senior cycle, based on consultations with more than 2,500 students and hundreds of parents and teachers across 41 schools.

The report's findings, first published in The Irish Times earlier this year, indicate a desire among many groups consulted for the Leaving Cert to be assessed on a staggered basis instead of facing a single set of summer exams.

Many also say 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.


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

No consensus

The review indicates there is little consensus on whether to reduce the number of subjects students are required to study or to end compulsory Irish.

Many students supported an end to compulsory Irish, with many complaining that they felt overwhelmed or ended up being “taught to the test”.

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

The review also highlighted many perceived strengths linked to the current senior cycle.

Teachers and parents, for example, placed a high value on having a system of assessment at senior cycle which is widely viewed as objective and fair.

Clive Byrne, director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, said the interim report echoes his own group's findings that there is a strong demand for continuous assessments as part of the senior cycle.

He said the report highlighted the challenges, such as high stress levels and rote-learning which are linked to the high stakes exam.

The fact that the credit-based assessment, project and practical work had been highlighted as a positive aspect of the Leaving Cert Applied was significant, he said.

“What is important now is that people recognise change is needed, and that it is the education sector that is starting to explore genuine practical solutions,” Mr Byrne said.

“We have seen some changes over the last number of years, most recently the two-day extension to the Leaving Certificate timetable to ‘ease pressure’ on students, but we are determined to continue this conversation continues and the NAPD intend to lead the voice for change.”


The NCCA said a new phase of consultations over the senior cycle has now got underway and will run until November of this year.

It says this will help formulate “priority areas” including advice on the pace and scale of developments and longer-term goals for the evolving development of senior cycle education in Ireland

Once discussed and agreed by NCCA council, an advisory report will be issued to the Minister for Education. However, it could take a long period of time before any changes are implemented.

The report also indicates a strong desire on the part of teachers that any reforms to senior cycle should be externally assessed rather than marked by teachers.

This issue became a major stumbling block to reform of the Junior Cycle and led to long-running industrial relations issues with teachers' unions.

A major concern which emerges in the review is the effect of the points system on teaching and learning .

Many schools stated that reforms would not be effective without changes in the higher education entry process.