INOTE Discusses Leaving Certificate English Paper One

INOTE received an invitation from the Department of Education to discuss the proposed move of Leaving Certificate English Paper One to Fifth Year. A delegation from our Executive Committee recently met with Department officials to represent the concerns of our members.

 

Published 9 November 2022.

Correspondence with Minister Foley on Senior Cycle Reform, 10 May 2022

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.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

____________________________________

 

 

Below is the text of the INOTE response to the above email. INOTE response also issued May 10 2022.

 

Dear [name]

 

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.

 

Yours,

 

Conor Murphy,

 

Chairperson, INOTE

 

 

 

Conor Murphy, INOTE Chairperson, on proposed changes to Leaving Certificate English

On Tuesday the 29th of March Norma Foley, the Minister for Education, announced changes to the Leaving Cert. These reforms will take years to develop and implement. With this in mind Minister Foley has decided to move two exams from the end of 6th year to the end of 5th year: Irish Paper One and English Paper One. This will apply from those starting senior cycle in 2023 on.

We at INOTE (Irish National Organisation for Teachers of English) ask that the Minister reconsider the decision to move English Paper One.

The English Leaving Cert exam is broken up into two papers. Paper Two is most familiar to people: here the students’ knowledge and critical appreciation of texts is assessed. Paper Two is where you will find Shakespeare, novels, those poets that are constantly debated, drama, and film.

Paper One is where the students get to express themselves, get to give their opinions, get to be creative. It is here that you will find the developed, original, essay, worth 25% of their overall English grade.

Here they can write short stories, personal essays, opinion pieces, discursive essays, persuasive speeches. It is in this paper that the students can show off their ‘creative thinking’ (NCCA report page23). It is in this paper that the students can ‘reflect their evolving sense of self’ (NCCA report page 21).

The word ‘evolving’ is important in the context of Minister Foley’s decision.

The core element of the study of English, from Junior Infants to the end of Sixth Year, was the development of individual student voice in whatever creative expression (or ‘creative thinking’) they find best suits them. It has typically been in the forum of Paper 1 that students ‘reflect their evolving sense of self’.

This process takes time to evolve.

That vital last year of maturation - where students are exposed to a variety of voices through study of various texts for Paper 2, where students experiment in the time available to them over the two years, where students hone their writing skills - has been compromised. Paper One’s knowledge and skills are developmental; a student can’t just learn them off after one or two classes. They write, get specific feedback, write again, receive more feedback, continuously over the two years. The more time they have the more they develop.

This will now stop at the end of Fifth Year.

If ever there was an example of ‘dumbing down’ it is here.

An obvious alternative to this decision would be to examine elements of Paper Two. Paper Two is all about developing the students’ critical and analytical skills. But the paper is text heavy and requires ‘hard study’ (learning off quotes, revising themes, images etc). By examining texts, like the Shakespearean play, at the end of 5th year the students will have removed one large area of study for 6th year, yet they will still develop those critical thinking skills through the study of the other texts, like the poets and novels.

This does leave some fundamental issues unresolved.

What happens to students that want to move levels? Will results be available 6th year? Will a poor result demotivate? Will this affect the study of the other subjects at the end of 5th year, will they just concentrate on Irish and English? Why wasn’t Maths included in the move? Will having two leaving cert exams create pressure in 5th year where before there was none? Will having nine instead of eleven exams in 6th year really relieve pressure?

The Minister’s announcement says that this move is ‘to ensure a positive impact on students as soon as possible’, yet it will result in the opposite in terms of their overall education and particularly the nourishing of their sense of self and their creativity.

English is a core subject. Every student studies English. English is the only area of the Leaving Cert where the creativity of every student is guaranteed to be nurtured, where they are given the opportunity to express themselves.

This is at the heart of English. This is what we cherish. This is Paper One.

The Minister has said that the move is to relieve pressure on students. This indicates that the student-centred paper one is being moved because of the CAO points race, as this is the fundamental pressure on Leaving Cert students. Thus, the reasons are reactionary, not education-focused. Decisions made in this fashion often result in damage to the education of our students, as is the case here.

We do not want to be misunderstood; reform of Senior Cycle is indeed to be welcomed in its vision to provide greater inclusivity and flexibility in education for all students. The idea that, in the future, our students might be able to work on short stories over the two years as part of a 40% continuous assessment is exciting to us boring English teachers.

But the NCCA’s Senior Cycle Advisory Report explicitly draws attention to the time needed for the curriculum development work necessary, and the implementation of the changes.

The Minister has called this an ‘interim measure’. If we look at how long the Junior Cycle took to fully reform, we can see that this ‘interim measure’ could last for over a decade.

Why then the rush for students to sit the English Paper One Leaving Cert exam at the end of Fifth Year in 2024?

On April the 10th the INOTE Executive, after representation from teachers of English, sent an email to the Minister to reconsider her downgrading of student voice and creativity, elements at the centre of English, a subject the Minister once taught. At the time of writing all we have received back is an acknowledgement of the email.

We haven’t received any further correspondence.

It is worth noting that INOTE is part of the Teacher Professional Network and thus partly funded by the Government.