Students giving up sports and social activities due to Leaving Cert pressure
ESRI report finds strong appetite for senior cycle reform among pupils, parents and teachers
Participants in a new study felt senior cycle should embed ‘life skills’ in the curriculum to better prepare young people for further or higher education, employment and adult life
Students are giving up sports and social activities due to the stress and pressure of the Leaving Cert, according to new research on pupils’ experiences of second-level education.
The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) study identifies a strong appetite among students, parents and teachers to change senior cycle. However, there are mixed views on what type of change and how much is needed.
The findings are based on two rounds of consultation with 41 secondary schools conducted by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) as part of a broader review of the senior cycle.
The study was carried out in the school year 2018-19 and recorded what participants believe are the positive and negative aspects of the senior cycle programme and how they believe current challenges could be tackled.
According to participants, a reformed senior cycle should include spreading assessment out over the course or two or three years and using a wider variety of methods to assess student performance, such as project work, portfolios and presentations.
Teachers strongly emphasised that assessments should continue to be marked externally to maintain a fair and transparent system.
Participants also felt senior cycle should embed “life skills” in the curriculum to better prepare young people for further or higher education, employment and adult life.
Among the suggestions included were work experience, the development of life skills such as online safety and handling social media and enhancing personal skills such as independence and resilience.
Some participants supported greater flexibility in terms of combining different elements of senior cycle programmes.
For example, some suggested the option of taking Leaving Cert Applied modules alongside some subjects from the traditional Leaving Certificate, or allowing students to take subjects or courses at a different pace or degree of difficulty to cater for different abilities.
Participants also felt such reforms would help to address current challenges, including a heavy workload and pressure to “cover the course”, which result in a focus on rote learning.
These issues were seen as having a negative effect on student wellbeing, with young people reducing their involvement in sports and social activities in the build-up to the exams.
Students were particularly vocal about the impact on their stress levels, with even junior cycle students expressing apprehension at facing the pressure of the senior cycle.
On the positive aspects of the senior cycle, teachers and parents pointed to several strengths such as the range of subjects available to study and the value of transition year in providing a variety of learning experiences.
Students were also very positive about transition year and highlighted positive relationships with their teachers and felt they were increasingly treated like adults after moving to the senior cycle.
However, students were more critical of senior cycle than teachers and parents and contrasted the interactive methods used in junior cycle with the exam-focused approach in senior cycle.
Emer Smyth, one of the report’s authors, said the consultation has shown the “value of listening to young people on issues that affect their lives”.
“Young people provide a clear vision of the kinds of learning that would help develop them to their potential and prepare them for the changing world ahead of them. Their views should be taken into account in any changes to senior cycle,” she said,
The NCCA’s consultation over the senior cycle has so far included 10 rounds of focus group meetings, a national forum attended by more than 150 participants, and 4,300 responses to an online survey.