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Junior Cert to be significantly changed under new scheme

Minister of Education gives his approval to NCCA’s proposals to change the focus of the Junior Cert from rote learning and state exams.

Junior Cert students in Dublin sitting their English exam last year.
Junior Cert students in Dublin sitting their English exam last year.
Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire

THE MINISTER FOR EDUCATION has approved measures which will see the Junior Cert replaced by a new system as proposed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) recently.

In its report, the NCAA criticised the focus on passing exams during students’ third year of secondary school and the longer-term impact of that focus on a student’s learning:

If the third year of junior cycle continues to be dominated by the prospect of theJunior Certificate examination and preparation for it continues to be focused on rehearsing questions and answers, then students, and their teachers and their parents will continue to believe that this approach is all that is required for success in this examination, inthe subsequent Leaving Certificate, and in learning beyond post-primary schooling.

The organisation said that assessment is a central part of the education process, but that this practice has tended to be sidelined in favour of preparing students specifically for exams.

Under the new scheme:

  • Focus on sitting the state exams is being reduced.
  • Class teachers and external moderators will assess school-based projects and portfolios which will count for 40 per cent of the marks for a subject; an external State Exams Commission-marked exam will count for the other 60 per cent.
  • Schools can also offer short courses which can award marks of up to 25 per cent.
  • Students will have to show “evidence of learning” in eight subjects, in seven subjects and two short courses, or in six subjects and four short courses.
  • The school timetable should allocate around 200 hours for each subject – but 240 for English, Irish and Maths – and 100 hours for each short course.

New focus

Speaking to the NCCA Council today, Minister Ruairi Quinn thanked the council for its “innovative” proposals and welcomed plans to cut both the number of subjects students undertake in their Junior Certs and the amount the syllabus covers.

He also said that concern has been building over the level of rote learning in the education system, instead of a focus on other skills.

The minister welcomed the NCCA’s “emphasis on the dialogue between student and teacher in the learning process, and the increased role of the class teacher both in assessment of learning and assessment for learning”:

Unless the examination changes, nothing else will. That is why I am determined that assessment reform must be an integral part of the reforms, if we are to make real change in teaching and learning and in the student experience.

The Junior Cert cycle changes will also clearly impact on the Leaving Cert, and Minister Quinn said that future reforms for the Leaving “will require the addition of second assessment components”.

The government recently announced that the eight subject limit being introduced under the NCAA’s guidelines will not be introduced until 2014, meaning that the first students taking exams under the new limit will sit their tests in 2017.

Concerns

Responding to Quinn’s approval of the NCCA’s proposals today, the Teachers Union of Ireland says that teachers are concerned that lack of resources supporting the changes could cause deeper inequalities within the Irish education system.

TUI general secretary Peter MacMenamin said today that the group accepts the need for reform in the Junior Cert, but that “this must be underpinned by a full commitment to the availability of the necessary resources for the implementation of any change”.

“There is a real fear among teachers that without these resources, reform could do more harm than good at a time when the education system is struggling to tread water,” he added.

Pat King, general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland, called for the “significant information gaps” in the new Junior Cert framework urgently need to be filled in.

King also reiterated the ASTI’s concerns about increasing the teacher’s role into the area of assessment, saying:

The ASTI is adamant that any move that places teachers in the role of judge rather than advocate of the student will distort the existing professional relationship between teachers, students and parents and will therefore damage students’ experience of second-level education.

Read: Teachers welcome delay in changes to Junior Cert >

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