School pupils to play key role in shaping review of Leaving Cert

Policy-makers highlight trends in senior cycle across other jurisdictions

Ireland currently has the highest proportion of school-leavers in the EU who progress to third level. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill

Ireland currently has the highest proportion of school-leavers in the EU who progress to third level. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill


Pupils and teachers in 40 secondary schools will play a key role in a major review of the Leaving Cert, which is set to pave the way for significant changes to the senior cycle.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) hosted a conference in Croke Park on Tuesday which focused on international developments in “upper secondary” education.

This marks the start of a major review of the senior cycle aimed at better meeting the needs of all students.

The next phase will move into schools where teachers and pupils will provide feedback on the current system and what changes they would like to see. A series of national conferences is set to follow.

On Tuesday, the NCCA published research on the structure, curriculum and assessment methods used across nine jurisdictions, including Finland and Ontario in Canada.

The research shows a wide variation in approach across these countries, although most tend to have more popular pathways into vocational routes than in Ireland.

Fewer apprenticeships

Ireland currently has the highest proportion of school-leavers in the EU who progress to third level. By contrast, far fewer students here pursue apprenticeships or traineeships.

Sweden, for example, offers students some 18 national programmes during senior cycle. Twelve of these are vocational and prepare students for employment or for further education in areas such as childcare, construction, transport or hospitality. About one in three school-leavers choose these options.

The remaining six involve preparatory programmes for higher education.

Most jurisdictions have varying approaches to assessments, with many opting for class-based tests.

In Finland, for example, there are two main forms of assessment in general upper secondary education: course assessment, along with a matriculation examination at the end of secondary school. In both cases, teachers or principals assess their students’ work.

Students tend to have have greater flexibility in the pace at which they complete these exams.

In a statement, John Hammond, the NCCA’s chief executive, said the review offers everybody an opportunity to generate a shared vision for senior cycle.

Strong base

This would, he said, provide a strong base from which the NCCA can shape a curriculum that “genuinely meets the needs of all learners for years to come”.

“We look forward to embarking on review of senior cycle with a network of 40 schools and a series of national seminars.

“This approach to how we undertake review will place schools at the centre of discussions about the kinds of developments needed at senior cycle.”

At the conference, Dr Beatriz Pont, senior education policy analyst at the OECD, spoke of the challenges involved in curriculum reform.

“I would describe Ireland’s education system as stable and robust; there is a passion for learning here, but there are opportunities for growth,” she said.

Jan van den Akker of University of Twente and former director general of the Netherlands Institute for Curriculum Development, shared some of the lessons learned from Dutch reform of its senior cycle.

He said clarity and simplicity of the mission was key, along with the involvement of all stakeholders from early on in the process.

Prof van den Akker also emphasised the challenges of changing curriculum frameworks into “living, meaningful practices in a wide variety of school contexts”.