Written answers

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Department of Education and Skills

School Curriculum

Photo of Joe FlahertyJoe Flaherty (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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111. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills her views on the reform of the senior cycle; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23656/22]

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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As the Deputy is aware, on 29 March I 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 well-being and reduce student stress levels

Introducing significant change at Senior Cycle needs to be thought through carefully and it is essential to ensure that the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), State Examinations Commission (SEC), the Department and schools can work through the changes with all stakeholders over a sustained period of time.

I know that there is an appetite for change in respect of different aspects of the Senior Cycle and Leaving Cert experience and that this desire has been massively accelerated and strengthened since the arrival of the pandemic.

Among the changes I announced on 29 March are:

- introduction of new curricula for subjects across Senior Cycle, updating subject content;

- the introduction of new subjects, providing greater choice for students to better reflect their range of interests and support the development of a wider range of talents and skills. Two new subjects – Drama, Film and Theatre Studies; and Climate Action and Sustainable Development, will be ready for students in network schools starting fifth year in 2024;

- changing the final assessment procedure to significantly reduce reliance on final examinations and introduce teacher-based assessment components;

- as Leaving Certificate subjects are revised they will have an SEC externally-moderated, teacher-based form of assessment component, which will have a weighting of 40% of the total marks available

- Avoiding the rigid restrictions that exist at present between students studying for the Established Leaving Certificate (ELC), LCA and LCVP programmes

- the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and SEC will jointly research and define, in consultation with education partners, how an SEC externally-moderated, teacher-based form of assessment could be possible within the mix of approaches used to assess each subject;

- the initial tranche of new and revised subjects will be available in September 2024, when students entering fifth year in network schools will study updated subject curricula, with updated assessment models in the optional subjects of Chemistry, Physics, Biology and Business;

- to ensure a positive impact on students as soon as possible, Leaving Certificate Established students entering Senior Cycle in September 2023 will sit Paper 1 in English and Irish at the end of fifth year;

- it is intended that into the future Oral examinations and the Music practical performance will take place during the first week of the Easter break of 6th year as was the case this year. The advice of the SEC on the implementation of these changes on a permanent basis, following an evaluation of the arrangements in 2022 by the SEC, will be duly considered in this regard;

- to enhance students’ options further, Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) students will have improved access to Mathematics and Modern Foreign Languages from September 2022, broadening the options for LCA;

- a new qualification will be introduced at level one and two on the National Qualification framework to provide an appropriate level of assessment to some students with special educational needs, building on the equivalent programme at Junior Cycle level; and

- a revised Transition Year programme will be established, and greater access to Transition Year for all students will be encouraged.

My approach to Senior Cycle redevelopment is ambitious, optimistic and inclusive. Senior Cycle redevelopment will ensure that the diversity of students’ learning needs and strengths are addressed. The redevelopment of Senior Cycle will ensure that all learning pathways in school are accessible and equally valued. It will broaden the ways used to assess and accredit students’ achievement, to better reflect and encourage the learning we wish to promote. And finally, we must ensure that students and their well-being are at the forefront of everything we do.

The new approach will enable students to follow a broad curriculum, develop their interests and skills and participate in a final assessment process consistent with international best practice, which will support them in their next phase of life whether that’s third level, further education and training, apprenticeships or the world of work.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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112. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if she will take steps to introduce objective sex education in all primary and post-primary schools; if she will ensure that religious ethos cannot prevent the teaching of the objective sex education curriculum; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23805/22]

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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Access to Relationships and Sexuality Education, or RSE, is an important right for students. This is reflected in the Programme for Government, which states that this Government will develop inclusive and age appropriate curricula for RSE and Social, Personal and Health Education across primary and post-primary schools.

Social, Personal and Health Education, or SPHE for short, is a mandatory curriculum subject in all primary schools and in post-primary Junior Cycle. RSE is required at all levels in schools, from primary through to Senior Cycle.

All schools are required to have an RSE policy that is developed in consultation with the school community, including school management, parents, teachers and students as appropriate. The school’s programme for Relationship and Sexuality Education is developed and taught in the context of the school’s RSE policy. In addition, schools are required to teach all aspects of the RSE programme, including family planning, sexually transmitted infections and sexual orientation. It is important to note that the ethos of the school should never preclude learners from acquiring the knowledge about the issues.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment was requested to conduct a review of RSE provision in Irish schools, focussing on a range of topics including healthy positive, sexual expression and relationships and LGBTQ+ matters. The NCCA published “The Report on the Review of Relationships and Sexuality Education in primary and post-primary schools” in December, 2019.

This report resulted in the NCCA establishing two development groups, one for primary and one for post-primary, to oversee the work of developing an updated curriculum materials in this area and supporting the development of guidance material for schools.

The immediate focus of the NCCA work has been on creating support materials for teachers as part of an Interim Guidance Toolkit. This Toolkit aims to support effective teaching and learning of SPHE/RSE and to deepen teachers' understanding and skills in addressing important and sensitive topics.

The NCCA Toolkit is being expanded in 2022 to include further age and stage appropriate guidance for teachers on how to address these topics within the SPHE classroom.

In tandem with this work, preparation for the broader redeveloping and updating of the SPHE curriculum has begun. Updated curricula will be developed for Primary, Junior Cycle and Senior Cycle.

A draft revised Junior Cycle specification is due to be agreed at NCCA Council in early Summer, with a public consultation to follow. The final revised specification is due to be completed by the end of 2022.

Preparation to update the Senior Cycle SPHE/RSE specification has commenced and it is intended that a meeting of the Senior Cycle development group will be convened in the next week. This group will prepare a background paper and brief which will form the basis of their work of redeveloping the Senior Cycle SPHE/RSE specification.

Following publication of the Primary Curriculum Framework, expected in early 2023, NCCA will establish a development group for the curricular area of Well-being. Learning pertaining to RSE in primary school will be addressed within the curricular area of Well-being and the subjects of Physical and Health Education and Social, Personal and Values Education. This development group will work on the development of a specification for the curricular area and corresponding subjects. This advice will be developed through research, deliberation, consultation, and engagement with networks.

In redeveloping the SPHE curriculum, the NCCA will be making explicit the importance of fostering young people's self-awareness and self-esteem and building the foundational skills and dispositions needed for building caring and healthy relationships (including respectful communication, showing empathy, and appreciating difference).

My Department continues to work closely with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to best give effect to the commitment in the Programme for Government to develop inclusive and age-appropriate RSE and SPHE curricula across primary and post-primary levels, including an inclusive programme on LGBTI+ relationships and making appropriate legislative changes, if necessary.

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