What changes can my son expect from the new junior cycle?
Ask Brian: Reforms aim to provide broader snapshot of students’ achievements and skills
This September will see new specifications for Irish, art and the four modern foreign language subjects being introduced
Question: My daughter sat her Junior Certificate a number years ago, but my son is starting secondary school in September this year. How will the new junior cycle be different for him?
Answer: The new junior cycle is aimed at providing a much broader snapshot of students’ achievements and skills, rather than cramming three years of learning into a single high-stakes exam at the end of third year.
A key difference is the introduction of new subject specifications. They focus more on what students are expected to know, understand, value and be able to do at the end of the three years.
New specifications for English, science and business studies have already been introduced.
This September will see new specifications for Irish, art and the four modern foreign language subjects being introduced.
So, when your son starts his new school in September, he will be studying these subjects in their new format. The final tranche of subjects is set to be introduced in September 2019.
Many schools already offer short taster courses in first year. The new junior cycle will provide all schools with the flexibility to either introduce, expand or lengthen the subject taster experience for first-year students.
It does this by capping the number of subjects that a student can take to final examination. (Under the current system, many end up studying 11, 12 or even 13 subjects to final examination.)
Of interest also is the fact that final examinations in respect of all subjects will now be no longer than two hours. Currently, for example, higher-level English has a five-hour written final exam.
The changes also allow schools to introduce short courses as part of their junior cycle programme. These courses require 100 hours of class contact time across the three years of the junior cycle, with two such courses being equivalent to one full subject.
Nine courses exist for schools to choose from, including coding, performing arts, Chinese language and culture and digital media literacy.
Up to a maximum of four short courses can be taken for certification purposes.
Your son will also experience different assessment procedures across his various subjects and short courses, compared to when your daughter completed her Junior Cert.
Instead of everything relying on the final examination in June, students will complete what are known as classroom-based assessments: one in second year and one in third year.
The outcomes of these assessments, along with the outcomes of his final examinations in June of third year, will be recorded in a new Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement.
This will also record any achievements in his other learning experiences at school, for example, in debating, athletics or achievements in the Young Scientist and Technology exhibition.
If your child is in a school staffed mainly by members of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland, however, he may not be in a position to fully complete these classroom-based assessments due to a union dispute. Hopefully, this will have been resolved by the time he starts school.