Environmental science and the Leaving

A golden opportunity

Sir, – The Government report on senior cycle reform published in March 2022 includes a proposal for a new subject of climate action and sustainable development that will be piloted from September 2024. It has already been pointed out that these topics are covered already to some extent in geography and in the science subjects.

There is a strong case to be made for a new Leaving Cert science subject, with strands of biology, physics and chemistry, building on junior science, and replacing the current physics with chemistry course, which has a tiny uptake. Such a general course would favour smaller schools with limited facilities and would allow students to enter third-level science-based courses, having done the three main sciences beyond junior science.

Many students find first-year science courses difficult because they have to take courses in science subjects that they have only met before in Junior Science. Students who have only done Leaving Cert biology, which is by far the dominant Leaving science, find they must take courses in physics and chemistry at third level, and they find this very difficult. A Leaving Cert science subject would give them a better foundation for taking such courses and might reduce drop-out rates.

There is even be a stronger case for a Leaving Cert environmental science course than the one proposed in climate science and sustainability. Environmental science would be a broadly based science course, including biology, chemistry and physics, but within the context of the environment.


Such a course would include coverage of climate science and sustainability and would therefore subsume the proposed new course, but with a clear and strong science foundation. The topics of climate science and sustainability cannot be understood properly without a good science base, but an environmental science course would allow for wider coverage of and perspective on environmental issues. It would then be seen to complement the existing Leaving Cert science courses. Many students currently taking Leaving Cert biology would probably opt for the new course. An environmental science course needs a good foundation in the basic sciences and its treatment of environmental topics should be evidence-based, providing a good basis for understanding contemporary environmental issues. With a good science content, Leaving Cert environmental science would provide a good subject for entry into third-level science courses, including the many environmental science courses on offer, and fulfil the rationale for a general Leaving Cert science course. An environmental science course should also be very attractive to many students, and would probably address the gender imbalance in the uptake of Leaving Cert biology and physics.

It is to be hoped that the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment will consult widely and take advice on the proposed new course, especially with the Irish Science Teachers’ Association, industry and third-level scientists. – Yours, etc,


Emeritus Senior Lecturer

in Chemistry


Chemistry Education

Research Group,

University of Limerick.