Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills

Leaving Certificate Reform: Discussion with School Management Bodies

Mr. Paddy Flood:

May I suggest that this is like an episode of "Columbo"? Both of the Deputies came in with some great questions at the end. What can we learn from the junior cycle? I will declare an interest in that I worked as part of the junior cycle reform team. I will share two experiences. The new methodologies around assessment, which are school-based and of interest to students, are equally as robust as any other form of assessment. These are very welcome. They provide focus for students over the various years of the junior cycle rather than just at the end. We can learn a lot from the methodologies of assessment used there.

On the negative side, if we look at the original plans for the junior cycle and the final product, we see that final product is quite diluted. There is many a slip between cup and lip. An example of that would be that, when students spend all of their time and energy on a classroom-based assessment, there is also an additional written document called an assessment task. This is slipped in along with the examinations. It is beyond my comprehension how that could in any way capture the wide variety of practical learning that has gone on. It betrays the real purpose of what is going on. We should be careful of dilution. The reform is well thought-out and needs to be implemented as intended.

On the questions Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked about disadvantaged schools, we have talked a good deal about DEIS but, as the Deputy mentioned, the reality is that things have changed very much. Reflecting the Deputy's experience, the numbers in the Cavan and Monaghan area have increased by almost 50% over the last five years. We are proud that our schools are offering a really good service in the ETB sector but it is not just about that because there are DEIS schools everywhere. There are also poorer students everywhere. There are students from disadvantaged backgrounds in all schools. One recent initiative of the Minister in response to Covid provides for additional resources to be offered to schools but the schools have been given significant flexibility, allowing them to target the most vulnerable students and to provide them with those resources.

That to me is welcome. If that were to be multiplied, schools would have flexibility, rather than being overly burdened with conditions, to use resources flexibly for students who need them most. Part of that, and I ask the committee not to lose sight of this, is the importance of home school liaison as part of DEIS, the contact between home and school, how much that improves the lives young people, the importance of school completion, and the importance of meals to those students who need food to navigate the day. All of those are important.

The last thing that underpins everything we have talked about, because we are proposing a radical departure from what we have, is the role of guidance counsellors. This must be key right throughout the educational process. If this reform is to be realised, we would require to look again at the volume, quantity, quality and everything to do with the role of the guidance counsellor. It has to be key because a student voice needs support to articulate it and to think things out. Guidance counsellors have a very important role in that.


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