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File photo of students taking Leaving Cert exams. LAURA HUTTON/ROLLINGNEWS.IE
AI don't think so

'The AI excuse doesn't wash with me': Mixed reaction to plans to drop teacher-based assessment

Labour Party education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin called the reforms “a missed opportunity”.

THE ANNOUNCEMENT THIS morning that plans to reform the Leaving Cert will be accelerated – but without the crucial element of teacher-based assessment – has received a mixed reaction.

While teachers’ unions – who were vehemently opposed to having teachers grade their students’ work – welcomed the news, opposition politicians strongly criticised the Government and Education Minister Norma Foley.

“I think this is a massively missed opportunity,” Labour Party spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin told RTÉ’s Today with Clare Byrne this morning.

“I’ve been saying this for three-and-a-half years now that COVID and the changes [that it brought]… offers an opportunity to radically overhaul what is the completely out of date Leaving Certificate,” he said.

Ó Ríordáin was referring to 2020, when teachers agreed to asses their own students as part of the calculated grade process as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We had extensive Oireachtas Committee hearings and every lobby group outside the teacher unions were advocating for radical change for mental health reasons, for student welfare reasons,” he said.

Under plans to reform the Leaving Cert cycle announced in March 2022, exams would be worth just 60% of students’ final results. The remaining 40% were to be made up of teacher-based assessments.

This would involve teachers grading essays, projects, oral exams and other work undertaken throughout the school year. On top of this, there were plans to move paper one of the English and Irish exams to fifth year.

However, both these initiatives were met with strong resistance by teachers’ unions, with claims that assessing their own students would significantly add to teachers’ workload and fundamentally alter the teacher-student relationship.

Today’s announcement retained plans to include elements of continuous assessment. Changes to certain subjects will begin to be rolled out in 2025, two years earlier than previously expected.

However, teachers will no longer be involved in assessing the work. It will instead be sent to the State Examinations Commission for grading. Meanwhile, after outcry from both students and teachers, there was no mention today of moving certain exams to the end of fifth year, with the plans appearing to have been quietly dropped.

Teachers’ unions, meanwhile, welcomed the announcement. 

“Obviously, the TUI have been very strong on the point that the key relationship here is between students and teachers, and teachers, correcting their own students would have fundamentally changed that relationship,” Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) General Secretary Michael Gillespie told Morning Ireland.

Gillespie said they supported the reforms as long as teachers did not have to grade students’ work

“We believe the second component assessments were always the way to go, corrected by the State Exams Commission, as long as they mark things that are not marked or cannot be marked in the written exam,” he said.

This point was echoed by the General Secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) Kieran Christie.

AI excuse “doesn’t wash”

Ó Ríordáin was also strongly critical of the the Minister’s reasoning for dropping teacher-based assessment. In her statement this morning, Foley suggested that her rowing back on the plans was due generative AI programmes like ChatGPT that can be used to write essays or projects on demand.

She said research needed to be carried out into these programmes before introducing the planned reforms. Ó Ríordáin did not accept this however.

“So the AI excuse which has been used today doesn’t wash with me at all. It’s incredibly convenient,” he said.

“I think what has happened is that the minister feels from her own department or from certain interest groups in education that she can’t move forward.

This exam effectively is the same as I did 30 years ago, it hasn’t changed apart from some tinkering. The minister says she’s accelerating but in fact she has her foot firmly on the brake.

Kieran Christie of ASTI said however that the minister made the right decision.

“What I would say is that this is the sensible but inevitable decision, the generative AI ChatGPT hadn’t even been invented when the [first Leaving Cert reform] announcement had been made.

“You’re looking at third level and you’re looking at the institutions here in Ireland and worldwide scrambling to try and figure out how to deal with that at third level where there is a lot of in-house assessment, and it would have been irresponsible, quite frankly.

That’s why we believe it was inevitable. It would have been irresponsible of this minister to proceed on the basis that she was proposing given the advent of ChatGPT. 

As part of the reforms, from 2025 Leaving Cert students will see changes to subjects such as Biology, Physics, Chemistry and Business. Two new subjects – Drama, Film and Theatre Studies, and Climate Action and Sustainable Development – will also be introduced on a phased basis.

There will also be a second tranche of revised subjects in 2026, with further changes to be brought in annually after that.

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