Dundalk teacher critical of the Junior Certificate reforms plan

THE Junior Cert reforms announced last week have been criticised by Dundalk teacher Elaine Devlin, a representative of the Association of Secondary Teachers (ASTI) and a member of the Teaching Council of Ireland.

THE Junior Cert reforms announced last week have been criticised by Dundalk teacher Elaine Devlin, a representative of the Association of Secondary Teachers (ASTI) and a member of the Teaching Council of Ireland.

Ms Devlin, a Maths teacher at De La Salle College, said teachers welcome reform, but the relationships between teachers, pupils and parents will now be drastically changed.

“Effectively, teachers will spend up to four years assessing students.

“The current Junior Cert has public confidence,” she added, pointed out that details of the Minister’s plans were a surprise.

“At meetings we had with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) we were told that the terminal Junior Cert exam would stay. It seems that the Minister has gone behind the backs of the NCCA.

“It’s worrying. Essentially, this is a political decision made due to the lack of funds. It costs €20 million to operate the Junior Cert.”

Last week Minister for Education Ruairi Quyinn announced the most radical shake-up of the junior cycle programme since the ending of the Intermediate Certificate and Group Certificate examinations in 1991. Minister Quinn has broadly accepted proposals put forward by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to introduce a new junior cycle programme.

Under the proposals, schools will be expected to deliver a programme that will enable students to develop a wide range of skills, including critical thinking skills and basic skills such as numeracy and literacy. Most students will generally take no fewer than 8 subjects and no more than 10 full subjects for certification purposes in the new junior cycle. Students can substitute two short courses for one full subject, allowing options such as Chinese or Physical Education or Digital Media Literacy to be taken.

According to the Department of Education, schools will also be able to offer their own short courses in accordance with specifications provided by the NCCA. This will give schools the flexibility to tailor the programme to the needs of students in their locality - for example, a short course might focus on an aspect of local industry, agriculture or heritage.

Local Oireachtas members were among the first to welcome the initiative.

Senator Mary Moran said such a move is long overdue and will ensure that students, rather than examinations, are at the centre of the three year Junior cycle.

Her Labour Party colleague deputy Gerald Nash said the Junior Cert has been tinkered with for years but it is essentially the same structure today as it was in the past.

“It is basically the same,” Deputy Nash said, “as it was for me and my parents when it was called the the Inter Cert.

“For the majority of students the junior cert is no longer an an end of schooldays exam.

“Its purpose has long since changed so it was badly in need of a complete overhaul.”

“The new system will eventually scrap the one big exam idea in favour of a combination of continuous assessment and end of year exams.

“This will allow teachers to work with students in a way that draws out the best from their pupils rather than being restricted to a narrow exam based focus.”

Fine Gael deputy Fergus O’Dowd said he welcomed the establishment of Priority Leavrning Units.

“Importantly, priority learning units (PLUs) will provide for the learning and accreditation needs of students with learning disabilities.

“These will relate to Level 2 on the National Framework of Qualifications,” he said.