Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills

Leaving Certificate Reform: Discussion with School Management Bodies

Photo of Marc Ó CathasaighMarc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party) | Oireachtas source

I thank the witnesses for their attendance. I want to refer to what Mr. Curtis and Mr. Irwin said regarding our investment in our education system not being where it ought to be and yet our learning outcomes as a country being good. The reason for that is the quality of teacher we have and are attracting. Teaching is still a respected profession in Ireland. We should hold on to that. It is extremely important. Certainly we are getting better bang for our buck than most countries, which is not a reason to continue underinvesting in education but it should be mentioned.

I wish to refer to what Deputy O'Callaghan said. The purpose of these hearings is to move towards producing a report on how we move forward with leaving certificate reform. A few elements are a given in my view. A three-hour examination is not a good way to test learning across a two-year cycle. We end up testing people who are good at doing examinations. We would all have to admit the emphasis of teaching moves away from teaching and learning as we move through sixth year and more towards examination performance. We would lose a certain amount of learning if we were looking at more of a summit process. Mr. Flood said it is a matriculation to third level. That is not a good enough reason to maintain the system we have. It is only fair on the surface. There is a whole host of socioeconomic factors that affect a student’s outcome. We need to rebalance in terms of critical thinking skills and content. We do not know what jobs we are preparing these children for. A previous speaker spoke about education out to 2070. We simply do not know what the workplace will look like then but we do know that people will still have to think. We need to open out our thinking on post-leaving certificate pathways. We are much too focused on the leaving certificate being a directional point in terms of third level achievement. We have to rebalance and revalue our practical skills, as they will become massively important. We like the broad and flexible nature of the current leaving certificate. That is not something I would like to be taken out of it.

To focus on the big picture and what it is that we are trying to do, we want to look at how, at the end of this process, we assess the learning that happened. Are there exemplars to which the witnesses could point me? Which countries are doing this well? Who is doing a good job of balancing the need to focus on learning and skills with the need for an endpoint and an endpoint assessment? Are some countries doing that well? If we are talking about evolution and not revolution, as a previous speaker referenced, we need to set out that vision first. Otherwise we will get mission creep or a drift as we try to do it piecemeal. Is there something on which we should focus, something we should put in front of us as a vision we want for the end of the leaving certificate and how would we drive towards it? That leads on to the big question, namely, what is education for? A previous speaker spoke of education as a pathway to work. If we view education only as a pathway to work we miss a major part of what it is to be an educated person. I have not used any of my physics in my working life, nevertheless, I am very happy I have a leaving certificate grounding in physics, although not tremendously. I believe there is a suspension of the laws of physics in Leinster House at times. My point is not all learning is necessarily pointed towards a labour market outcome. Those are wide questions. I am not sure which of the witnesses wish to respond. My basic fundamental question is which countries could we look to in this respect, who is doing a good job of this and from where can we learn?


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