Syllabus guidelines are ‘recipe for disaster’, ASTI conference hears

Second-level teachers express concern at level of guidance given for some subjects

Second-level teachers have expressed concern at the level of guidance they have received about teaching aspects of a revised senior-cycle curriculum and have warned the current arrangements could represent “a recipe for disaster”.

The annual convention of the second-level teaching union ASTI on Tuesday passed a motion demanding that the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) include depth of treatment and range of subject knowledge, in the design template of all future Leaving Certificate specifications, including those currently under development.

John Conneely of the union's Clare branch said that for Leaving Cert syllabus design to conform to international best practice it should contain considerable detail on areas such as the topics to be studied, the depth of treatment of those topics, as well as subject-specific detail such as practical work, field work or practical skills.

The conference heard that the major problems were arising in newly developed Leaving-Cert syllabi, such as agricultural science.


The conference was told that the redesigned syllabi were composed of a list of learning outcomes, without full details of how deeply teachers and students should go into a topic.

Mr Conneely described the template being used as “fundamentally flawed”.

He said this template was used in the junior cycle science syllabus and for the Leaving Cert agricultural science syllabus, implemented in 2019 and which would be examined for the first time this coming June. He said this template would be used for all new leaving certificate syllabi.

“It is not surprising that the incorporation of this template, into the Ag’ Science syllabus has caused widespread consternation amongst those teaching it. At the Irish Agricultural Science Teachers’ Association annual conference, a teacher summed up his frustration: ‘I am teaching a topic on the Ag’ Science specification at the moment and I don’t know if I should be spending two months on the topic, two weeks, two days or two hours’.”

Mr Conneely said: "Of course, we must consider the possibility that somehow the NCCA have got the syllabus design right and the other educational systems have got it wrong. Perhaps the systems of Scotland, Victoria Australia, the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO), New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong and all the rest are mistaken in choosing a template with depth of treatment and range of subject knowledge. We do not even know how the NCCA arrived at choosing this outcomes-only template.

“Our high-tech industries need to be underpinned by Leaving Cert syllabi of evidence-based design and of international standard.

“How can teachers be expected to have confidence and belief in a type of syllabus that in their experience simply does not work and has never been tested anywhere else. This is indeed a recipe for disaster.”

The conference also backed a separate motion which demanded “an assurance that a full and comprehensive review of the implementation of the junior cycle framework be undertaken and published by an independent educational body prior to any further changes being proposed and/or implemented at senior cycle”.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent