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Dublin: 6°C Sunday 16 January 2022

Leaving Cert study 'leaves students stressed and with narrow education'

The system has come under fire in a wide-ranging new study which says many teachers simply ‘cover the course’.

Students sit the Leaving Cert exams at a school in Dublin
Students sit the Leaving Cert exams at a school in Dublin
Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

THE LEAVING CERT teaching model leaves pupils with a disadvantaged all-round education because of the pressure to focus on exam success, a landmark think-tank study has claimed.

With many classes simply focusing on practising previous exam papers, students receive a narrow learning experience as teachers aim to simply ‘cover the course’.

The ESRI study also showed students reporting a heavy workload, with a significant number doing more than three hours of homework per night to keep up. Pupils are acutely aware of the fact that the Leaving Cert is a “high stakes” exam with implications for their future, and many find it very stressful – with girls especially falling victim to feelings of pressure to succeed, the research revealed.

Almost half of sixth-year students go outside the school system and take private grinds in an attempt to boost their grades.

The research, called Transition or Transaction?, showed that decisions made in the junior cycle have a significant influence on Leaving Cert pathways – with subject choices and level allocations often impossible to escape once they are made. Moreover, students who struggle early on often find it hard to make up lost ground.

It also said that the Leaving Cert Applied programme offers more active learning – but there is a stigma attached to taking it in some schools.

The study’s authors called for students to be allowed to “pursue a number of more flexible pathways” which would be a way of “maximising students’ options for the future”. They suggested that a broader range of teaching methods and assessment modes should be employed, which might improve students’ engagement.

Column: State of our education system is a national emergency>

In numbers: how Ireland’s students fared in Leaving Cert 2011>

Calls for reform of Leaving Cert and third level funding>

About the author:

Michael Freeman

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