Time for change in assessing Leaving Cert

Sir, – The inequalities in our educational outcomes are stark. A soon-to-be released report from the Higher Education Authority indicates the strong connection between the more affluent members of our society and high results in the Leaving Cert and access to third level, particularly the future high-income courses such as medicine, business, and finance.

One of the reasons for this inequality is the method of assessing students in the Leaving Cert. Many subjects rely on a final written exam, and research has confirmed that such a system encourages a method of predicting the exam papers, preparing answers and learning them off. This means that grinds work well in preparing students for the Leaving Cert. This implies that a factor in inequality in the Leaving Cert results is a matter of who can afford grinds and who can not.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is currently conducting a public consultation on the review of Senior Cycle, that is, our Leaving Cert.

A study that considered our ways of reforming education compared to other education jurisdictions noted our strong emphasis on consultation. For public consultation to be effective, it has to be well designed, well managed and inclusive; and participants in the consultation need to be well informed. Whose voices are most likely to be heard in the public consultation currently being conducted? Will participants in the consultation call for methods of assessment that lead to greater fairness?


The problem is not our young people, nor is the problem their socioeconomic origins. The problem is the assessment system. It is possible to have an assessment system that is much fairer to everyone and does not depend on grinds. There are many good reasons, both educational and employability, that the development of problem-solving skills, critical thinking and creativity are desirable.

Our current syllabuses for Leaving Cert subjects claim that each subject develops these skills, but research has established that our current system relies greatly and mainly on rote learning and memory recall.

An assessment system that genuinely promoted and assessed problem-solving, critical thinking, and creativity while taking cognisance of the context of life experience, ways of thinking and making meaning of the varied cultural, socioeconomic groups in our society would be a much fairer system.

Such a system would provide assessment tasks that were novel, not previously completed, learned off and recalled in a test. For the sake of all our young people, we need change. We also need resourcing to enable the change to happen. Right now, we need people to make their voices heard in calling for change in our Leaving Cert assessment. – Yours, etc,






Centre for Evaluation,

Quality and Inspection,

Institute of Education,

Dublin City University,

St Patrick’s Campus,


Dublin 9.