Leaving Cert leads to ‘devastating’ stress among students

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March 7, 2018 by johnston00


The way the Leaving Cert is structured is maximising stress on students and leading to crippling levels of anxiety, parents’ representatives have claimed.

The National Parents Council Post-Primary said high-stakes, one-off exams can be “brutal instruments” and fail to properly assess student’s overall performance and learning during their time at school.


Geoffrey Browne, the council’s president, said studies suggest continual assessment rather than one-off exams boost learning and engagement and are better tools to establish the true depth of students’ knowledge.

“We are concerned that the current system of evaluation maximises stress on students who often memorise to regurgitate in a moment and then forget. It does little for many towards assisting their learning or retained knowledge,” Mr Browne said.


Teachers should not assess their own students for the purposes of certification in the State examinations

Addressing the Oireachtas Committee on Education, Mr Browne said calls to the council’s helpline during the summer indicate that exam anxiety is very common and can be “quite devastating” for some students. “Significant stress in teenage students definitely occurs as a result of the anxiety caused by the current method of assessment and the pressurised study regime that derives from it.”


Project work

He acknowledged that some changes have already been made and that some subjects already utilise forms of continuous assessment.

However, he said the curriculum and method of assessment should be evaluated to ensure our education system is fit for purpose and delivering fairly.

The Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI) said it was important to note that a model of continuous assessment has been built into the curriculum since a commission on the points system issued a report 20 years ago. Moira Leydon, the ASTI’s assistant general secretary, said up to 40 per cent of the marks in subjects such as Irish were now accounted for by oral or aural exams, which take place during the year.


In addition, she said there was a large emphasis on project work in history and geography, as well as practical or performance tasks in a range of other subjects such as home economics. She said the ASTI has always insisted that the State exams must be externally assessed in order to meet the criteria of fairness, transparency and objectivity.

“In other words, teachers should not assess their own students for the purposes of certification in the State examinations,” she said.



The Teachers’ Union of Ireland said a movement to a system of continuous assessment system could negatively affect the quality and reputation of the Irish public education system.

TUI president Joanne Irwin said significant, agreed changes were currently being implemented in both junior and senior cycle.

“The current system of curriculum and assessment development… is robust and reliable. It can and will make such changes as are required in a prudent manner that protects quality and reputation and that is focused on the needs of students.”


The Irish Universities Association said there was considerable international evidence that considered use of continuous assessment in State exams can bring many benefits for students and their learning processes, behaviours and outcomes.

Lewis Purser, the association’s director of academic affairs, added that there are also a number of important risks, such as the integrity of assessments, which would need to be addressed if these approaches were to be introduced systematically in Ireland for the Leaving Cert.

The Irish Times

Carl O’Brien

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