The following email was received from the office of Minister Norma Foley on Tuesday 10 May 2022 by INOTE Chairperson Conor Murphy. It was issued in response to INOTE emails to the Minister of April 10 and 26 2022.
Dear Mr. Murphy,
Thank you for your recent correspondence to the Minister for Education, Ms. Norma Foley TD, regarding the redevelopment of Senior Cycle.
On 29 March last, the Minister announced an ambitious programme of work for a reimagined Senior Cycle of education where the student is at the centre of their Senior Cycle experience. The three tenets of Senior Cycle reform are to:
- Empower students to meet the challenges of the 21st century
- Enrich the student experience and build on what’s strong in our current system
- Embed wellbeing and reduce student stress levels
The approach to Senior Cycle redevelopment is informed by, and builds upon, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment’s (NCCA’s) Advisory Report on the review of Senior Cycle. The NCCA’s work, as you know, was based on an extensive range of research, consultations and communications with a wide range of stakeholders.
In particular, the second phase of the NCCA's review, which took place over 2018 and 2019, involved a school review and national seminar series. Teachers, students and parents in a representative cross-section of schools nationwide took part in a review of the existing senior cycle.
The third phase of the review also invited individuals and organisations, including teachers and teacher representative organisations, to participate in a public consultation process, leading to the publication of a Public Consultation Report in December 2019.
Since September last, the Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science has held a number of hearings on Senior Cycle reform. Throughout these hearings, a desire to spread assessment over a greater period has been a recurring theme on which there has been broad consensus.
In addition, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2016 expressed its concern about the pressure that the Leaving Certificate examination places on children and recommended that Ireland consider reforming the Leaving Certificate to reduce the stress caused to children.
Prior to the Minister’s announcement, careful consideration was given to the NCCA’s Advisory Report as referred to above and also the more recent experience of the last two years. In making this announcement, the Minister has responded to a broad consensus for spreading the assessment load. In this regard, the NCCA Advisory Report emphasised the need to reduce the focus on the final examination period and the stress experienced by students associated with this time.
The reforms announced by the Minister include initiatives to spread the assessment load for students and do so in a way that enhances student wellbeing. The redeveloped Senior Cycle also includes the development of new and revised subject curricula, with a significant emphasis on additional assessment components outside of the traditional final written examinations.
Bearing in mind the significant assessment load at the end of sixth year, as an interim measure the Minister has decided that one of the papers in Irish and English will be taken at end of fifth year, starting with students beginning 5th year in 2023.
However, in her announcement Minister Foley also noted her conviction that we need to go beyond current assessment arrangements, and that we need to get a better balance in the range of ways we assess students’ learning.
For this reason the Minister has decided that, in the future, all Leaving Certificate subjects will have assessment components additional to the conventional written examinations. These components will also allow for a greater range of students’ skills and competences to be assessed, as well as spreading the assessment load for students.
For each subject there will be a State Examinations Commission (SEC) externally-moderated, teacher-based form of assessment which will be worth 40%. This will be designed on a subject-by-subject basis, and the Minister is asking the NCCA together with the SEC to jointly research and explore how this teacher-based assessment will be constructed within each subject.
As outlined above, the moving of Paper 1 in Irish and English to the end of fifth year is an interim measure to spread the exam load, pending the full development of a variety of examination components in all subjects. It should also be noted that the weighting and importance of Paper One in each of the subjects has not been changed or reduced.
In this regard, the Minister has asked the NCCA to publish by September 2023 a schedule of dates by which individual subject curricula will be completed, with the first updated curricula being available and introduced into “network schools” for piloting in September 2024.
I trust this information is of assistance.
Below is the text of the INOTE response to the above email. INOTE response also issued May 10 2022.
Thank you for your response to our emails.
We are disappointed that the Minister has not addressed our concerns directly. INOTE's concerns are not around the spreading of assessment, our concerns are about the content of the paper to be examined. These were the concerns outlined in our emails to the Minister.
Specifically, our concerns are around how this change will impact the development of every student's voice and creativity over the next ten years that this 'interim' measure may last. As English teachers we are very familiar with how long 'interim' measures can last, many of us remember the old Soundings textbook, an interim measure that lasted thirty years.
Although the 'weighting and importance' of the exam may not have been changed or reduced for CAO purposes the fact that a year of development has been lost means that the educational value of the paper, for the student, has been reduced. This change will result in the downgrading of student voice and creativity, both of which require time to develop, neither of which can be 'learnt off' in a year.
INOTE is in the process of surveying our members with a view to our next steps.
But it is worth noting that we, as English teachers, value our students' creativity and self-expression and will continue to advocate for their development over time, rather than stifling their maturation.