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Tuesday 28 November 2023 Dublin: 3°C
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Column Why the Leaving Cert as we know it is redundant, by a headmaster

There are better assessment systems out there internationally, writes headmaster Arthur Godsil. So why aren’t we using them?

The debate over education reform rages on after changes to the Leaving Certificate maths curriculum and a jump in points for many university places this year.

Arthur Godsil is the headmaster of St Andrew’s College in Dublin, a school which also offers the International Baccalaureate and the US High School Diploma – and here he argues that it’s time for the Leaving Cert as we know it to be dumped.

AT ST ANDREW’S College we offer three options for students to choose from  – the traditional Leaving Certificate, which the majority of the students in St Andrew’s take, the International Baccalaureate and the American system known as the US High School Diploma.

There has been a lot of criticism of the Leaving Certificate in recent years, with many people wondering whether or not it represents the most satisfactory way of assessing the education our children are receiving in school.

Our three options differ significantly from each other, with the American system using a completely different approach from our own. Its assessment is based on students’ work over a four-year period, along with references and personal statements and the need to achieve a certain standard in the SAT exam.

In St Andrew’s we organise seven SATs per year for students who are interested in applying to US universities, and we are the primary centre in Ireland offering this facility.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) is an international educational foundation based in Geneva, Switzerland. It offers programmes for children aged 3-19, but St Andrew’s College is the only school in Ireland to offer the Diploma Programme. This is designed as an academically challenging and balanced course of study which prepares students for success at university and life beyond. It is taught over a two-year period and is based on a holistic approach to education.

Retention of facts

The Leaving Certificate, by contrast, is largely based on the retention and reproduction of information and facts. It seems intent on discovering what you don’t know, instead of assuming you have the information and seeing what you can do with it.

I believe that the International Baccalaureate is a much fairer system, and a more reliable indication of future academic success.

Third-level lecturers sometimes say they have to spend nearly half the year ‘de-programming’ Leaving Certificate students in their first year of college, mainly because they want them to adopt a completely different way of learning.

Students have to make major adjustments when they transfer from secondary school to third-level education. However, it has been observed that students who have completed the IB have a much better chance of completing degree and other courses than their Leaving Certificate counterparts.

The IB is far more comprehensive. It incorporates more than one assessment, and that works well for students. Shortcomings in one area can be redressed in another. The assessment can look at all aspects of students’ work. There is also a final exam, but the overall result is not based solely on that. There are numerous deadlines for students to meet over the two years of their study and extended essays must be handed in on time.


There has been much discussion as to what is the best way of reforming the Leaving Certificate programme in Ireland and the IB system has been looked at as a possible alternative, but the cost is viewed as prohibitive.

However, I believe that a cost/benefit analysis of making the change would point to the likelihood of our getting good value for our money if we did.  We should do everything possible to prioritise the education of our children and focus more attention on identifying students’ strengths rather than their weaknesses.

We should not have a system where students have to guess what is on the exam paper. That is not the way to encourage learning, but it is the system we have today.

I absolutely believe that the IB system is the way of the future. It is a far more productive method of assessing the strengths of our students than the one we use at present.

Consequently, it is time, in my opinion, for a radical overhaul of our assessment system.  Our children deserve nothing less, and we have a duty to confront this challenge seriously, and without delay.

Arthur Godsil is the headmaster of St Andrew’s College in Dublin.

Open thread: What changes would you make to the education system?>

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