The Irish Times view on the proposals for Leaving Cert reform: vital that all students are on a level playing field

One of the reasons the exam has had such high levels of public trust is down to the perception that it is fair.

After years of talk, reform of the Leaving Cert is finally on the horizon. It is not before time. The senior cycle has long faced criticism for generating high levels of stress, while the heavy reliance on written exams means there is pressure to teach children to perform in the test, rather than focus on a more rounded education.

From next year students will have the opportunity to study nine new or revised subjects which will incorporate research projects worth 40 per cent of marks. The aim is to spread the assessment load and reduce anxiety associated with a marathon set of written exams in June.

There is much to welcome about these long-awaited changes. However, university lecturers and science teachers have flagged significant concerns over the fairness of these reforms for students attending less affluent schools. In the case of biology, physics and chemistry, for example, students will be required to conduct research investigations in laboratories. Each project is expected to involve about 20 hours of work.

Lecturers have questioned the availability of laboratory equipment and resources in schools to supply all students undertaking these projects. They have warned of a widening of the social divide within schools, and also between fee-paying schools that have additional sources of income and Deis schools that cater for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. It will require massive levels of investment to bring laboratories up to the required standard across schools, quite apart from the challenge of sourcing support staff.


One of the reasons the Leaving Cert has had such high levels of public trust is down to the perception that it is fair. Students – at least on the day of assessment – are on a level playing field. For too long, schools have been forced to fundraise for basic facilities or protest to deliver long-promised upgrades. It is vital, then, that the Department of Education ensures schools are funded properly so that all Leaving Cert candidates can perform to the best of their ability. Anything less is setting some students up to fail.