The Irish Times view on Leaving Cert reforms: easing the stress

A new plan to lessen the focus on terminal exams is in the interests of students

Ireland’s senior cycle second-level education system has undergone extensive redesign over many years. Individual subject curricula have been updated, and when this has occurred the modes of assessment have been amended to allocate a proportion of the overall grade to project work or other mechanisms other than the terminal exam in June. Two-thirds of all Leaving Cert subjects now have additional assessment components. The grading system was changed to reduce the number of bands to reduce the stress on students. The entry routes into third-level have also been expanded through the allocation of reserved places for graduates of one-year further education awards in post-Leaving Cert colleges.

Notwithstanding all of the above, the perception persists that the Leaving Cert remains a high stakes exam completed during the month of June each year. The announcement by Minister for Education Norma Foley therefore that subjects will in future be assessed through a combination of a terminal exam in June worth 60 per cent of marks along with 40 per cent allocated through other methods, including teacher assessment, is to be greatly welcomed. Hopefully, teachers and their unions will work with the State Examinations Commission to deliver an assessment process relating to that 40 per cent component.

In part due to the involvement of representatives of the student body in the ongoing discussions relating to senior cycle reform and our responses over the past two years to the challenges to our education system thrown up by the Covid-19 pandemic, we have become far more aware of the mental health consequences of excessive exam stress. The proposed reforms will not eliminate this stress entirely, but changes such as the movement of the first papers in both English and Irish to the end of fifth year, along with the further widening of the subjects on offer to include drama, film and theatre studies along with climate action and sustainable development, should greatly enhance the educational experience of future generations of senior cycle students.