Education experts highlight urgent need to reform ‘outdated’ Leaving Cert

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June 24, 2016 by johnston00


Teachers should be given a central role in the assessment of their students as part of a reformed Junior and Leaving Cert, according to leading international experts.

A forum on education to be held at Maynooth University today will hear that empowering teachers in this way could shift the culture of assessment towards a model that promotes skills which are highly sought-after.

Prof Val Klenowski, Queensland University of Technology, will tell the forum that skills which are vital to thrive in the modern world – such as critical thinking, problem solving, ability to work well in groups – are neglected by a “system of mass assessment and testing”.

This outdated approach focuses on indicators of achievement such as grades and test results ahead of practical skills, according to Prof Klenowski.

The issue of reform of the Junior and Leaving Cert is controversial at present given the opposition of the country’s biggest second-level teachers union.

The reformed junior cycle – which involves a move towards school-based assessment – is only being rolled out in one out of three secondary schools due to the union dispute.


The Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) says it is unfair to require teachers to assess their own students’ work for the purposes of a State exam.

However, Prof Klenowski said: “With teachers taking an active role in designing their own assessment models based on a core syllabus, you take into account the fact that different schools have different needs.”

“It allows for a diverse range of assessment to be practised – whether that consists of in-class essays, assignments, or presentations – that not only reflect the different ways in which students can demonstrate their learning but also more successfully fosters a practical skillset which will serve them moving forward into college and into their professional lives.”

He said Queensland has a system of assessment in which teachers are at the centre and where schools are trusted to arrive at a reliable decision about a student’s achievement.

Much of the controversy over junior cycle reform centres around the ability of teachers to be objective when it comes to making judgments about their students.

Prof David Carless of University of Hong Kong will tell the forum that pervasive distrust in teachers is a potentially damaging feature of any educational system.


“Societies that trust teachers have significantly less need for standardised testing,” he says.

The issues are due to be debated at the fourth Maynooth Education Forum, which brings together researchers, strategists, and policymakers from Ireland and overseas to discuss cultures of assessment.

Prof Philip Nolan, president of Maynooth University, said the theme of the conference was “Dismantling The Murder Machine”, a reference to Pádraig Pearse’s pamphlet on the education system published in 1916.

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