Students face ‘disconnect’ between new Junior Cycle and existing Leaving Cert

Norma Foley tells school leaders a reformed senior cycle will meet needs of all students

Students are facing a “disconnect” between the reformed Junior Cycle and the existing Leaving Cert, school leaders have warned.

James Duignan, president of the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools (ACCS), told the group's annual convention in Cavan on Thursday that the gap between the two was posing challenges for students and teachers.

"It appears clear that there now exists a disjoint between the curriculum at Junior Cycle with its focus on skills and competencies and that of the senior cycle which still places a huge emphasis on content and the ability of candidates to recall content in the June terminal exams," said Mr Duignan, who is also principal of Glenamaddy Community School.

“These high stakes examinations, which act as the filter to entry to higher and further education, have a very significant ‘backwash’ effect on the mode and delivery of programmes to current students in the senior cycle,” he said.

“There is not only a disconnect between the skills developed at Junior Cycle and the recall required at Leaving Certificate, but also between senior cycle and third level where students revert to skills-based programmes similar to the Junior Cycle.”

Mr Duignan told the annual convention that school leaders were awaiting the Minister for Education's response to the forthcoming publication of the review of the senior cycle, conducted by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.

Norma Foley told the gathering that she was considering the review carefully with a view to delivering a senior cycle programme that "meets the needs of the students of today and, indeed, the future."

In the meantime, she said has decided to make significant changes to this year’s State exams in light of disruption linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.

While there will be an exams-only approach this year, she said students will have fewer questions, greater choice and exam results which are no lower on average than last year.

In relation to the Junior Cycle exams, she said students will have fewer classroom-based assessments to complete and the assessment task will not take place this year.

Student voice

John Irwin, general secretary of the ACCS, said the emergence of a student voice has been a positive feature of pandemic times and should play a key role in the future reform of the senior cycle.

“Students are at the centre of all that we do in education, and it is only right that this voice is now clearly evident at stakeholder talks in the national forum,” he said.

“ Following our experiences of this period we have surely seen the inadequacies of senior cycle in our schools and must be ready to engage in a reform process that will retain all that is good but embrace programmes that assess a broader range of competencies and skills using a more comprehensive range of assessment models,” he said.

Separately, the annual convention of the ACCS - which represents 96 community and comprehensive schools - heard calls for new community schools to be established to ensure parents and students have more choice.

James Duignan said community schools were first introduced to provide a unified system of education where previously there had been two distinctly separate systems: voluntary and State.

“This remains the philosophy underpinning community schools which are reflective of the communities they serve and are uniquely democratic in their joint patronage model,” he said.

“The Department of Education speaks of promoting diversity and parental choice but has developed a system which arguably reduces diversity by excluding the community school model as an option.

“In doing so, it limits parental choice and the opportunity to choose the joint patronage model. It seems to ACCS, that the department has possibly missed a forward step here.

“By returning to polarised systems of patronage, it discarded the true diversity and democracy afforded by the community school model.”

Latest Stories