Tuesday, 23 November 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
I want to raise the issue of the leaving certificate and of having certainty about what the leaving certificate will be about going forward. I note that the Minister has received the advisory report from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA. When does she expect to make a decision on it? We saw that the hybrid model worked in the last academic year but it had the consequence of points going up. When will we have certainty around this area? Students need to know from first year on what they will be facing.
As the Deputy may be aware, the NCCA carried out a review of the senior cycle between 2016 and 2020, leading to the advisory report the Deputy has referenced. The review covered a number of areas, including the question of the overall identity and purposes of senior cycle education; how to establish continuity and progression with the new junior cycle; and the range of learning programmes and pathways available to students at senior cycle. In addition to this, the review considers: how best to improve flexibility and choice for students; the alignment of key skills with the needs of students; and the appropriate arrangements for assessment and certification in senior cycle.
The NCCA review involved a broad range of research, consultations and communications with a wide variety of stakeholders, including students, on all aspects of review and redevelopment over a number of phases over the period of the review. In particular, the second phase, 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. Review feedback was then analysed and emerging themes and areas for further exploration were identified. The third phase of the review also invited individuals and organisations, including students and student representative organisations, to participate in a public consultation process, leading to the publication of a public consultation report in December 2019. This consultation included 4,300 responses to an online consultation survey, as well as focus groups, meetings and the receipt by the NCCA of written submissions.
The NCCA also commissioned external expertise to support the process, including the ESRI and the OECD.
As I have mentioned, the NCCA submitted its advisory report to my Department. My officials and I have been considering the report carefully, with a view to delivering a senior cycle programme that meets the needs of the students of today and the future.
While I do not wish to pre-empt the conclusion of that consideration process this evening, my priority in considering the report is to deliver a senior cycle for all guided by the goals set out in the programme for Government which place the needs, experience and success of learners, educators and the community at the heart of the approach.
Does the Minister believe that the hybrid model for the leaving certificate in June of 2021, which involved calculated grades along with students being able to sit the examination, was a success and does she believe that is the type of future model that will be laid out when she issues her direction in respect of the advisory report she has received?
When does the Minister expect to come to a conclusion on it? At this point, students of all age groups in secondary school, and more particularly, their parents, need certainty.
I am taking Deputy Alan Farrell's question.
The question I would like to ask the Minister is just how radical she is willing to be in this area. The reality is that memory retention, which is at the heart of the leaving certificate, is distorting teaching and learning. The OECD has reported it is creating a second-rate qualification for our students.
We are more than five years on from the start of this reform process and it sounds like it is being pushed further down the road. This is urgent. We need to have equity of respect for different pathways and the present leaving certificate simply does not offer that.
In the first instance, as I referenced earlier, the senior cycle review is just that. It reviews all of senior cycle. That is important because it includes leaving certificate established or, as we would call it, leaving certificate; the transition year programme; leaving certificate applied; and leaving certificate vocational programme, LCVP. It is very much a holistic look at all that is on offer currently at senior cycle. It proposes to address the key questions of the overall identity and purpose of senior cycle, how to establish continuity and progression with the existing junior cycle and the range of learning programmes and pathways available to students at senior cycle.
The review has taken more than four years to complete. As the Deputies will appreciate, as a consequence there is a substantial body of work in it. Therefore, it demands substantial consideration on my part. I previously referenced clarification, whether it is with the State Examinations Commission, SEC, or whatever the case might be. It is my intention in the shortest timeframe possible to publish the report.
As a parent, and having put four through the leaving certificate in recent years, it is a hugely significant examination for students.
In the past year, there was the hybrid model. While people may accept the point about memory retention, I believe there is scope for both. People have to be able to perform in an examination but, equally, they must be judged on their continuous assessment. Does the Minister consider the most recent leaving certificate, that hybrid model, a success and is it something that will feed into the process outside of everything else?
It is a significant examination. For someone at 17, 18 or 19 years of age, one has to ask if it is catering for all skills. At the same time, it is an equitable examination that the public have faith in. I like the fact of people going to an examination and putting their number at the top of the page. It does not signify who they are. I like that aspect of it and it is something that I value. We should not lose that.
I have two short supplementaries. Could I have the assurance of the Minister that it will not take another five years to implement the changes when they do come out because that would be bitterly disappointing for people who want to see change? Does the Minister agree that the ceiling did not fall in when teachers undertook to assess their own students and that we need to be courageous in advocating and implementing change that allows modern learning and teaching to happen in our schools?
It is important to point out that all learnings from Covid are important, not only within the education sector but in all of society. Specifically, in relation to the questions the Deputies raise here in terms of senior cycle, all of what we have learned through Covid is an important consideration. All of what we have learned and experienced prior to Covid also will inform this report.
Deputy O'Donnell quite correctly referred to leaving certificate, as we are focused on leaving certificate, as being a very significant examination. It is a very significant examination and it holds a considerable status within this country. Equally, wider society is clearly of a view - I am absolutely committed to this - that there is a need now to do a complete review of the leaving certificate in its entirety.
The Deputies referenced methods and means pertaining to assessment and certification. I absolutely acknowledge that. I also acknowledge that we need to be innovative in our thinking in terms of the pathways we offer people and that there should be every possible opportunity for students to progress from junior cycle straight into senior cycle and then onwards to whatever pathway that they might wish to pursue.
I want to be clear to the Deputies that I am entirely committed to the senior cycle review providing opportunities in terms of senior cycle education for all where every young person's ability and every young person's potential and capability is maximised, and that is the objective here. As I have said, I am committed to that and delivering on that.