Taoiseach wants European languages to be taught across all primary schools

Martin says ‘inflexible’ Leaving Cert must change to encourage independent thinking

Taoiseach Micheál Martin wants European languages to be taught across all primary schools in light of Brexit.

He also said Covid-19 pandemic has underlined how the Leaving Cert is often “too inflexible” and wants to see a mixed approach of continual assessment and exams which encourage more independent thinking and creativity.

Mr Martin was speaking at the launch of Ireland's Education Yearbook 2020 at Trinity College Dublin on Tuesday evening.

The book, edited by Irish Times columnist Brian Mooney and published by Phyllis Mitchell, is being made free to access online (educationmatters.ie).


The Taoiseach said the safe reopening of schools as soon as possible remains a major priority for the Government.

In the meantime, he said continuity of teaching, learning and assessment remain an “absolute priority” for the sector as does supporting learners with special education needs and those at risk of educational disadvantage.

Into the future, he said the education sector must be open to innovation and addressing clear challenges faced by our country.

“In our primary schools we need to introduce a full national scheme for teaching European languages in our primary schools. We have to build on early steps to give every child access to music and cultural activities in school,”he said.

In relation to the Leaving Cert, he said we have known for many years that the exam uses a very limited range of methods for learning assessment.

“This became even clearer during 2020 when, with no notice and with great pressure on everyone, a new system had to be put in place,” he said.

“Obviously we need to develop a more permanent backstop – but equally we need to learn as much as possible from recent experience and see how we could do things differently.

“Most countries in Europe have in place a mixed approach to assessment at school-leaving stage and we need to seriously engage with the potential benefits of this for Ireland. Ways where we can do more to encourage independent thinking and creativity must be considered.”

In addition, he said new plans to be published soon will aim to significantly expand the apprenticeship sector, with the aim of 10,000 registrations a year between now and 2025.

“We need to do much more to value the vital role played by further education both economically and socially,” he said.

“Apprenticeships and similar qualifications deserve a renewed level of respect and priority .

“Further education is a valuable resource for driving a skill based economic recovery and growth. Apprenticeships offer access to education and training in partnership with employers across Ireland.

Speaking at the launch, Dr Patrick Prendergast, Provost of Trinity College Dublin, said Ireland had historically kept ahead of the curve by prioritising education and research at strategic moments.

“To use current management-speak: we have been good at knowing ‘when to pivot’,” he said.

“Now, as we seek to design a post-Covid future which matches economy growth to sustainability and creativity, I believe we’re at another pivotal moment.

“Education – more education, better education, joined-up and connected education, spanning pre-school to life-long to re-training – investing in this is how we will design a compelling future.”

Brian Mooney, editor of the Yearbook, said the Covid-19 pandemic was “a once-in-a-century event” which will change education in profound ways.

“We have just lived through an education revolution the consequences of which will only become apparent in the years ahead. There is no going back to many of the pre-Covid-19 education practices,” he said.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent