Time for Leaving Certificate reform


Sir, – While warmly congratulating the Leaving Certificate class of 2020 and wishing them every success in their future endeavours, I am concerned that, 50 years after I took this examination in June 1970, we are still using this very blunt assessment instrument.

I am happy for the class of 2020 that they were spared that seeming interminable June period, enduring sweaty school halls, boiling sunshine, sore fingers, grey invigilators, frayed nerves, butterflies in the stomach, putting on a brave face, and so on.

They will, however, face other challenges. Since 1970 there are relatively few aspects of life that have not changed, but not the eye-of-the-needle process of Leaving Certificate assessment, aided and abetted by eye-of-the-needle university entrance procedures .

Students are being assessed in the same way now, as I was, in an era before recent decades of exponential developments in technology and the emergence of the digital age.

Can this assessment process really be fit for purpose anymore?

It rewards, over almost everything else, the ability of students to recall and their ability to write under pressure. Much more will be required of these students as this century unfolds.

It is becoming ever more likely, for instance, that the knowledge, skills, and aptitudes developed through the traditional senior cycle curriculum, and continued to an extent in universities, will need significant refocus, realignment or recalibration when today’s students reach the world of (very different) work in this decade and beyond.

Different assessment paradigms for a new age are urgently required.

Perhaps the recent emergence of non-school learning systems and procedures, albeit Covid-related in this instance, has let the genie out of the bottle?