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Formal Junior Cert exams abolished under new system

Reforms announced by Ruairí Quinn this afternoon replace terminal exams with continual assessment – with the terminal exams scrapped altogether by 2020.

Ruairi Quinn's reforms, announced today, see the formal Junior Cert exams abolished in favour of more continuous assessment.
Ruairi Quinn's reforms, announced today, see the formal Junior Cert exams abolished in favour of more continuous assessment.
Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Updated, 14:46

THE FORMAL Junior Certificate exams set by secondary school students at the end of their third year are to be scrapped under reforms announced by the Minister for Education today.

Ruairí Quinn has announced a series of radical reforms this afternoon, under which the formal set of exams are abolished and replaced with a longer series of continuous assessments, in the biggest reform to state exams since the Inter Cert was abolished in 1991.

The move toward continual assessment – under criteria laid down by the State Examinations Commission, but marked by a student’s own teachers – is intended as an attempt to make education less solely focussed on a stand-out set of end-of-year exams.

This afternoon Quinn said the Junior Cert exams as they currently exist had become outdated and in need of reform.

“The Junior Certificate is no longer a high stakes exam, yet we continue to treat it as if it were a ‘dry run’ for the Leaving Cert – to the detriment of many of our students,” he said.

“There is compelling evidence from many countries that shows more students will perform better by moving away from such terminal exams.”

The new system will see students assessed on a minimum of eight and a maximum of ten subjects, though schools will be able to offer shorter courses on the likes of entrepreneurship, digital media and Chinese without an ‘official’ assessment.

The changes will be introduced on a rolling basis, with the English curriculum the first to change, for new school entrants in 2014. Irish, Science and Business Studies will be amended in 2015, with changes in order subjects by 2017. The changes mean the end-of-third-year Junior Cert exams will be a thing of the past by 2020.

It is hoped that the reforms would encourage students to see the Junior Cert as more than merely a warm-up for the Leaving Certificate – while also trying to stop students from ‘switching off” through their first years in secondary school.

The exams include a standardised science test from 2016 onward, while standardised English and Maths tests will be introduced for second-year pupils from 2014.

Interestingly, the new system will only differentiate between higher and ordinary level grades for English, Irish and Maths – with all over subjects eventually taught to a common level when the new regime kicks in.

Last year’s announcements also introduced new standardised literacy and numeracy tests to be taken at the end of second year, which will supplement exams that are already offered in primary school. Previously there had not been any standardised tests at second level, other than the Junior and Leaving Cert exams themselves.

The reforms come on the back of recommendations from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. Training on managing the new system and the changeover from the current regime will be offered to teachers next year.

Junior Cert results: Girls outperform boys in 20 out of 23 subjects

Column: Times have changed and so should the Junior Cert

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Gavan Reilly

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