Some questions on Junior Cycle reform

Some early questions that occur to me about the proposed changes to the Junior Certificate. Discussion welcome in the comments section.

There is an implication in the NCCA document that previous attempts at reform failed because they didn’t change the methods of assessment. Is the answer therefore that changing the method assessment is the only way of reforming the system effectively? Wouldn’t investment in education be as successful/effective as this choice which undermines the current, neutral system of examination?

Isn’t this change the result of an anxiousness to parse the PISA scores into a cataclysmic moments for Irish education, when really they merely compare different groups of teenagers in different countries?

The reforms will devolve power to schools to draw up programmes, particularly for short courses, themselves. Does this mean that a staff in situ over the next few years will have huge power? With staffrooms going through huge changes, and an increasingly casualised profession, when decisions are made about which subjects or short courses are to be adopted how easy will they be to undo? There is genuine fear that subjects like Geography and History will disappear because of staffing considerations, never to reappear.

The power to decide on programmes will, all or in part, devolve to management at a local level, thus managers will have huge power to drive the school in whatever curricular direction it wants, a power previously unheard of. Will this local autonomy provide the required insulation from bias in assessment, the necessary protection for minority subjects, and the desired confidence in the assesment process? Will the ‘localisation’ of this power pave the way for formal or informal comparisions of schools?

The NCCA framework presupposes learning can be measured. How can this be done without copious paperwork and pretend measuring criteria? We know each student moves at a different pace, but how do we measure this? These children will now be taught at a common level, so where do we allow for the gifted or the challenged?

The document seems to imply 1st Year will be a transition from Primary: when a students special needs hours, or access to an SNA, or indeed any psychological reports do not follow through, how much paperwork will be created in this ‘follow through’, and who will complete it?

On the 24 ‘Statements of Learning’. While the NCCA seems to suggesst these statements will be applied across the broad curriculum. When you know how a school works, it’s not hard to see these being used to justify one subject and reject another. How will it be possible to have a subject based curriculum while at the same time removing the clear division between subjects? The Minister is fond of falsely repeating that Primary teacher s teach children, Secondary teacher teach subjects: is the document proposing to water down subjects to help students, because it won’t.

How will the mix of subjects and short courses be timetabled? Has anyone in NCCA ever drawn up a timetable? Has anyone in the NCCA thought of the practicalities of implementation? Practicalities matter, wouldn’t it have been better to pilot the whole programme than introduce it in this way?

Key skills. There are many but two are elaborated on: literacy and numeracy. A member compared the way these have become ubiquitous to the way ‘gender studies’ was the compulsory unit of most CPD in the 1980s and 1990s. They bring us back to PISA, the peg on which the whole framework hangs.

Where is the evidence that ‘significant numbers disengage in 2nd Year’? What of those who remain commited and learning in the system as it stands?

On assessment: does the replacing of terminal exams with standarised tests really reduce the pressure on students to perform or the pressure on teachers to prepare students for tests? Doesn’t the proposed replacement of terminal exams replace year end pressure on everyone with constant pressure?

At present, the document says ‘both teachers and students focus on learning what is necessary to do well in final examinations’, isn’t this the fault of the examination rather than the students or the teachers? Doesn’t the dissolution of the importance of the SEC mean a lack of clarity and consistency in certification?

The document mentions constant feedback on assessment, what is envisaged here?

On CPD: when will it begin? How much of it will be provided? Will it be purely for planning or curriculum/course/content based? Even if proper CPD is rolled out, how much will these changes save on Inspection and the SEC?

On the choice of subjects: who will chose which subjects are to be taken for certification: the student, the teacher, the parent or management?

What is peer assessment? page 28

When will the final examination at the end of 3rd Year be taken and marked? Will teachers be marking a students Junior Cycle exam while still teaching, or is the month of June to be used?

Anyone who ever marked a state exam knows that they leave them marking conference with a feeling that the group of examiners are all on the same wavelength regarding the standard to be struck in the marking process: how is that to be achieved now?

How, if these proposals are accepted, will teachers be renumerated for marking work for certification? How will a local appeal system work?

Also it’s been pointed out to me that class contact time will fall by 1000 hours over the three years under this proposal, redundancies and redeployment will provide further savings. Is this what reform is to mean?

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One thought on “Some questions on Junior Cycle reform

  1. One has to wonder about what the NCCA and the DES – at least as far at the Statements of Learning in the new Junior Cycle are concerned.

    The Statements of Learning have been changed and moved around between the Draft and the final document. While all but one have been ‘refined’ (to use the NCCA’s term) it is interesting to note the one that has been changed:


Statement 8 in the draft ” develops an understanding of the natural world” was removed and in the final document;
    Statement 19 is new “Values the role and contribution of science and technology to society, and their personal, social and global importance”.

    Does the NCCA and the DES hate geography? Is this why the Minister met with the HTAI but not the AGTI? Have the Statements of Learning been ‘refined’ because they got them ‘wrong’ in the first instance? Are the ‘right’ now? Did they not meet us because it’s an argument they know they would lose? Is power more important than principle – educational ones at that?

    Not to deny the value of science and technology – my position on these are well known and it beggars belief Science was not made compulsory at JC level in the new curriculum – but clearly, lobbying must work better than sound educational principles in deciding what children should learn in the new Junior Cycle.

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