Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 2 November 2021
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills
Leaving Certificate Reform: Discussion (Resumed)
I thank everyone who presented to us. This has been an interesting session because we have focused to a great degree on skills, which is welcome.
One of the recurring themes that we are seeing throughout this process is that we must differentiate between senior cycle and the leaving certificate. Too often, they are viewed as one and the same. I wonder whether by overfocusing on the leaving certificate as a summative end point exam, we almost make it a singularity in a student's life, to use science fiction terminology, and we miss out on the senior cycle. As such, it is welcome that we are beginning to speak about moving beyond the leaving certificate – sidestepping it is probably the wrong way to talk about it – and discuss alternative pathways for students. The leaving certificate captures one type of learning, which has been broadly accepted as we have worked our way through this process.
Skills will be vital. Housing has been mentioned. Waterford and Wexford have done great work leading on retrofit programmes. However, retrofit on its own will not be enough. As the town centres first policy is delivered, it will entail refurbishing older properties, but we do not have the skills in our trades to bring those old market town properties back into use. If we are serious about tackling vacancy and dereliction and returning life to the hearts of our towns, this will be an important skill set.
I will offer the Minister praise. He has shown the merit of having a senior Ministry in this area. It has driven further education. We should also consider lifelong learning. While it is tangential to this discussion, lifelong learning is one of the areas where we do not do well. However, I am glad that we are focusing more on further education, in particular apprenticeships.
I would like to give Mr. Brownlee the opportunity to drill down a little more into the idea of level 5 and level 6 certification. It is interesting and I would love to see it happen in respect of languages as well. I would like to see the common European framework being rolled out into schools. We have discussed this at length on the Comhchoiste na Gaeilge, na Gaeltachta agus Phobal Labhartha na Gaeilge. Many people who leave school, often with a good leaving certificate in Irish, will say the next day that they cannot speak Irish at all. If we put them on the common European framework and told that them that they were at B2, B1 or wherever, it would be helpful. I would like to give Mr. Brownlee an opportunity to speak a little more about this idea and how to segment it for particular subjects. I studied engineering to the leaving certificate. Is there a micro-credential that we could roll out for computer aided design, CAD, computer numerical control, CNC, turning, milling or the like? I am using these as examples only because I know the subject reasonably well.
I took a look at the figures in preparation for today. We are not doing badly in terms of STEM subjects. A press release from Engineers Ireland in September detailed how well we were doing in terms of the number of students taking engineering, construction studies and agricultural sciences to the leaving certificate. That is welcome, as an important part of the skills piece has to do with land use. For example, the forestry programme in WIT was oversubscribed.
It will be incredibly important. Land use programmes, organic agriculture and horticulture will become extremely valuable skills. I will give Mr. Brownlee and Dr. O'Connor an opportunity to talk about that because the witnesses were speaking about that in terms of micro-credentials. How do they see that working and integrating, particularly in transition year? There is probably a role for it in the senior cycle if we could make the system marry up.