Minister for Education Norma Foley has insisted the overhaul of the Leaving Certificate will not lead to major grade inflation.
“That will not be the case,” Ms Foley told Newstalk Breakfast, adding: “The State Examinations Commission, whom I want to say are held in extremely high regard in this country, will be the moderators.
“They will moderate the exams and the certification will actually come for the State Examinations Commission, so I don’t have any fears in that respect.”
Ms Foley acknowledged “change is never easy”, anticipating mixed feedback following the announcement.
She emphasised that while the changes will be challenging, the move is primarily about giving students more opportunities to maximise their potential.
“This is probably the most student-centred reform we had had in generations.
“One of the key motivations that I have in bringing in senior cycle reform is that it empowers students to meet the challenges of the 21st century, to enrich their learning but also their skill base and finally to embed well-being and reduce stress.”
Application of knowledge
Ms Foley said the new system will better allow students to “showcase” their work over time, but will also reduce the emphasis on the acquiring of knowledge rather than its application.
“Different students have different skill sets. There is a place for the written aspect of the exam but there is also a place for the application of knowledge.”
Ms Foley acknowledged the enormous contribution made by teachers during the pandemic, adding that teachers want to do what is best for their students.
“They want their students to perform to their maximum,” the Minister said.
She added she was conscious of the need to deliver the changes in a timely manner, explaining the new measures will be worked through in network schools with the teachers: “The teachers will have an opportunity to teach, to trial, to evaluate and to adjust so that we ultimately succeed.”
Ms Foley said the SEC will have the ability to change the marking scheme if a student changes from Higher to Ordinary level during their senior cycle.
Earlier, the chief executive of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, Arlene Foster, said the changes aim to put in place the best options for students.
Ms Foster said the report recommending changed to the senior cycle involved compiling the views of thousands of people over four years, including teachers and students.
Also speaking to Newstalk Breakfast, Ms Foster stressed the review gathered different perspectives and opinions on how to continue to evolve senior cycle education to ensure it is meaningful and relevant to all young people.
“What we did on that report, on foot of gathering all that information across three phases of review, was that we identify three big areas which need attention and further research.
“Those include providing very flexible pathways through senior cycle and more choice for young people, providing a much greater mix of subjects and modules and, in particular, giving more opportunities to young people for learning in the technical, creative and vocational areas.
“Then looking at assessment – broadening out assessment, looking at different ways to assess the learning that young people are involved in, and also looking at ways to broaden the reporting of that learning,” Ms Foster said.
Choice and flexibility
She added that Minister for Education Norma Foley has given the report “very serious consideration” and has accepted and endorsed those areas as needing further attention.
“She has responded to NCCA by identifying very specific things she would like us to do now in each of those areas, getting more choice for students and more flexibility in terms of what their senior cycle would look like.”
Ms Foster explained the Minister requested that the NCCA look at how boundaries between the various Leaving Certificate programmes – the Leaving Certificate Established, the Leaving Certificate Applied and the Leaving Cert Vocational – could be broken down.
The revamp announced on Tuesday means 40 per cent of grades will be determined by continuous assessment, she said, and two new subjects are also to be introduced.
Mr Foster said further plans include additional oral examinations and the moving of the practical examination for music to the first week of the Easter break in sixth year.
Leaving Certificate Applied students will also have improved access to Maths and modern foreign languages from September to broaden their options, she added.