Teachers frustrated with agricultural science syllabus ‘40 years out of date’

Call for Leaving Cert subject to be modernised

Teachers of the Leaving Cert agricultural science courses have said the syllabus is 40 years out of date and has been neglected by the Department of Education.

Agri Aware, which raises awareness of the agri-food sector, has also urged the Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn to update the syllabus.

Some 7,414 students completed the Leaving Cert examination this year while an estimated 14,000 fifth and sixth year students will be studying the subject when school resumes later this month.

Demand for third-level agri-food courses increased by 10 per cent this year, representing the steepest rise in demand for courses, according to the CAO, but the Irish Agricultural Science Teachers’ Association said the increasing importance of the agri-food sector was not reflected at second level.


Damian Phelan, chairman of the Irish Agricultural Science Teachers' Association, said the syllabus was "totally out of date". The course comprises a theory exam and a practical assessment. Mr Phelan said the practical element was fine, but the syllabus was a few pages with vague references to key issues.

“There are no teacher guidelines at all. It’s led totally by the exam paper. It’s an outrageous set-up.”

His association drew up a proposed new syllabus in the mid-1990s in the hope that it would be used but nothing ever happened and it was now out of date.

"I teach biology and maths as well and they've been reviewed regularly," he said. He noted the biology syllabus was more than 200 pages with 184 pages of guidelines.

'Seriously inhibited'
Mr Phelan said 40 per cent of agricultural science teachers had entered the profession in the last three years and these teachers were "seriously inhibited" by the lack of guidance.

“It’s incredible. We genuinely do not know what the problem is and we’ve never got a satisfactory answer.”

Agri Aware director Vanessa Woods said tomorrow's agri-food industry leaders would come from urban and rural backgrounds and must be provided with a modern and relevant education at second level.

Her chairman Bernard Donohue urged Mr Quinn to modernise the syllabus. "The sense of frustration and anger in our agri-food industry is only to be expected and will reach crisis point, as our future industry leaders are learning about farming practices that no longer apply to modern agriculture," he said.

Edmond Harty of dairy equipment company Dairymaster said it was "unbelievable" that the syllabus was so out of date, given the importance of the sector.

A former Ernst and Young entrepreneur of the year, he said he had not studied agricultural science because it was not available in his school and called for the subject to be made more widely available.

“25 per cent of our foreign earnings are coming from our agri sector and we need to have the name of being the best in the world at what we do,” Dr Harty said.

“But this is like trying to teach a computing course with computers that were used in the 1980s.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said some changes to update the examination were being made.

“Further work is planned by the NCCA [National Council for Curriculum and Assessment] for before the end of this calendar year to align the revised agricultural science syllabus with the rest of the revised Leaving Certificate science syllabuses,” she said.

Alison Healy

Alison Healy

Alison Healy is a contributor to The Irish Times