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Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
# Politics and Society
Leaving Cert students sat the first ever Politics exam today - here's what was in it
A tweet from Leo Varadkar featured on the first ever exam.

FOR THE FIRST time this afternoon about 900 Leaving Cert students sat an exam in Politics and Society, a new subject which was introduced in 41 participating pilot schools in September 2016.

The exam was available at Higher and Ordinary Level and was 2.5 hours long, divided into three sections.

The exam itself was worth 80% of the students’ marks for the subject while 20% of their overall total was marked in April in the form of a research project.

The subject includes areas like power and decision making; active citizenship; human rights and responsibilities; and globalisation and localisation.

The subject is now being rolled out nationally (you can access today’s exams here).

What was on the exam?

Section A of the Higher Level paper asked students to address ten short answer questions, which included the following:

  • Is the election process to Seanad Éireann a democratic process?
  • Is it possible to talk about a shared Irish identity in Ireland today?
  • Name two consequences of income inequalities in Ireland on an individual’s life chances.

In Section B students were asked to read a report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a Trócaire report on climate change.

They were asked to draw from both documents and formulate a response to a quote from Mary Robinson that “Climate change is the greatest threat to human rights in the 21st century”.

Section C, which was worth half of the exam’s marks, asked students to write two essays from a choice of six.

They included one based on a tweet sent during Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael leadership campaign (below), one on inequality in the Irish education system, and one on the effects of Trump’s ‘America First’ policy.

leo1 State Examinations Commission State Examinations Commission

Section A of the Ordinary Level paper asked students to

  • Outline the role of Dr Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children in Ireland.
  • Name two human rights organisations in Ireland. Describe the work of one of these organisations.
  • Explain the term ‘patriarchy’. Give an example of patriarchy in society today.

Section B asked those taking the exam to read part of a Focus Ireland report and one on the Dublin Region Homeless Executive’s rough sleeper count and formulate a response.

The essay section asked for students to write about people using their public profiles for social impact, gender inequality in Ireland, ethnic identity in global development, childrens issues or local initiatives.

What was the reaction like? 

Christian Jones-Hickey, a student at The King’s Hospital school in Palmerstown, described the Higher Level paper as fair and “better than the mocks”.

Malahide Community School student Jessee Mooney said she would recommend the subject to anyone “willing to put in the work, because it’s not an easy subject”.

Politics and Society teacher Joanne Stapleton of St Mary’s College in Arklow said that her 20 students took a “massive risk” in signing up for a subject without set content in the form of a book, past exam papers or marking scheme.

Despite the challenges Stapleton said her students are now “self directed learners and critical, independent thinkers”. They enjoyed visits from local TDs and MEPs as part of their studies.

Commenting on the Ordinary Level paper Bairbre Kennedy of Malahide Community School said the paper achieved the aim of the course in promoting “reflective and active citizens”.

Dr Eilís Ward of the Politics and Sociology Department at NUI Galway said the exam “lays a very good foundation” for young people to appreciate the significance of politics. She described the exams as being “very contemporary”.

Sample papers were provided to students prior to the exam and the chairperson of the Politics and Society Teachers Association of Ireland  Dr Jerome Devitt said that paper “didn’t wander too far” from the sample, which was of benefit to students.

He added that he’d like to issue “an open challenge” to any politician to sit the paper, adding that the association will “gladly grade it”.


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