Teacher’s union ‘concerned’ over move of Leaving Cert English paper one to fifth year

Change announced last month as part of a reform of the Leaving Cert from 2024

English teachers have said they are “very concerned” about plans to move the Leaving Certificate paper one exam to fifth year.

In a letter to the Minister for Education Norma Foley last month, the Irish National Organisation for Teachers of English (INOTE) said moving the exam to the end of fifth year "indicates a fundamental lack of understanding of the English curriculum and of why we study English".

The change was announced last month by Ms Foley as part of the reform of the Leaving Cert, which is due to come into effect from 2024.

Conor Murphy, chairperson of INOTE, said the "core element" of the study of English, from Junior Infants to the end of sixth year, was the development of the "individual student voice in whatever creative expression they find best suits them".

Mr Murphy said with the movement of English paper one it seemed the “educational value of the exam has been dismissed and replaced with the need to ease pressure for those looking for CAO points”.

He said “that vital last year of maturation”, where students experiment in the time available to them and hone their writing skills “has been compromised”.

“It is worth noting that the Paper One skills are developmental, they grow over time. This means that there will be no reduction in ‘hard study’ of texts for those students that sit the paper in fifth year,” Mr Murphy said.

“Consequently, this move may result in students feeling under pressure to commit to a level of examination far earlier, with many being unwilling to ‘chance’ the Higher Level paper so early.

“This would likely be felt most acutely in our DEIS schools, where excellent work is undertaken to support and motivate students over the course of two years. The result is the same: student voice and creativity are being undermined.”

Mr Murphy concluded in his letter that he did not want to be misunderstood and reform of the Senior cycle was to be welcomed in “its vision to provide greater inclusivity and flexibility in education for all students”.

Single paper

A spokesman for the Department of Education said the minister had listened to students who called for the spread of assessment and “striking a balance between final exams and other forms of assessment”.

He said the intention is that subjects which currently have two final written examination papers – Irish, English and Maths – would move to a single paper with “a substantial additional examination component to be developed or adjusted, as appropriate”.

"As an interim measure the State Examinations Commission (SEC) will be asked to alter the timing of Paper One in both Irish and English so that Paper One would take place at the end of fifth year commencing for fifth years entering fifth year in September 2023," the spokesman said.

“There will be communications and engagement with students and with schools, including teachers, ahead of the introduction of this change. This is an interim measure, pending the full development of a variety of examination components in all subjects.

“Arrangements for candidates who ultimately sit these two examination papers at different levels will be considered by the SEC, in light of their experience of addressing similar issues for candidates who sit an examination paper at a different level to the coursework in subjects which have level-specific coursework.”

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times