Teachers to assess students in radical reform of Junior Cert

 

STUDENTS WILL no longer sit a formal State examination at the end of third year in secondary school, under proposals for a new Junior Certificate agreed by the Cabinet this week, The Irish Times has learned.

Under Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn’s radical new plan, schools will offer a wide range of subjects and short courses.

Teachers will assess their students over the three years of the junior cycle in schoolwork components and a final exam. The exam papers will be set by the State Examinations Commission for the foreseeable future but marked by the teachers.

The new Junior Cert arrangements will for the first time see all students taking standardised tests in numeracy and English reading in second year from 2014.

They will also take standardised tests in science from 2016, which will be welcomed by industry, which had called for science to be a compulsory subject.

The new Junior Cert exam will be based on revised syllabuses drawn up by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. The new programme will include traditional subjects and a number of short courses in areas such as digital media, entrepreneurship, sustainable energy and living and Chinese language and culture. Schools will be able to design courses to suit local needs within guidelines set down by the NCCA.

Under the plan, parents will get a fuller picture of their child’s progress in the first three years of secondary school, receiving the results of all standardised and other tests.

The hope is that the standardised tests will provide valuable information for teachers, with less exam stress for students. There is already standardised testing of seven- and 11-year-olds at primary level but until now there has been no second-level equivalent.

The revised plan for the new Junior Cert is due to be unveiled by Mr Quinn later today. The proposals, drawn up by his officials in consultation with the NCCA, are more radical than had been anticipated. The new Junior Cert will be rolled out on a phased basis, with the first cohort of students assessed in 2017.

More than 59,000 students received their Junior Cert results last month, with the results overall in line with previous years. Nineteen pupils achieved 12 A grades in the exam, with 108 getting 11 and another 259 getting 10. The number of those sitting the exam was up by 3.4 per cent.

The new Junior Cert is broadly in line with the practice in highperforming education systems such as Finland and New Zealand.

Plans for teachers to assess their pupils are certain to be the most controversial. The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland is likely to strongly resist any such change to the State exam.

Speaking after the results were announced this year, ASTI president Gerry Breslin said the exam was a “fair, impartial and transparent exam which helps young people to learn about setting and reaching educational goals in their lives”.

The ASTI favoured reform but said it would be “folly to subject the Junior Cert exam to a cost-saving exercise which would lower its status and reputation and increase social inequities”.

Mr Quinn previously indicated there would be changes to the Junior Cert.

The changes would apply to students entering the system from September 2014, Mr Quinn said in August this year.

“You can’t push it any faster and I think if you tried to you’d make a mess of it,” he said.

Last year, Mr Quinn told a conference on exam reform: “It is clear that the Junior Certificate examination has a serious, negative backwash effect on students’ learning and is out of line with international practice.”

Research by the Economic and Social Research Institute has indicated that high numbers of male students – particularly those from a disadvantaged background – tend to disengage from school during the Junior Cert cycle.

Many teenagers, it concluded, are ill-suited to an education system built around a terminal examination.

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