The planned reform of the Junior Cert exam has the potential to be the most seminal event in Irish education since the introduction of free schooling 40 years ago, a school leader said today.
Dónal Ó Buachalla, president of the group representing second level principals, said the stress in the current exam on rote learning and “teaching to the test” had stifled the creativity of learners and teachers alike.
He said the new reforms present a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to achieve real change – in what happens in the classroom, in the interactions, in the role and dynamic of the teacher – change in the mode of assessment, where assessment for learning and not of learning is the priority”.
Mr Ó Buachalla, of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD), said Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn should be applauded for his foresight in introducing such a radical change, which he said is student-centred and which will liberate teachers.
Addressing the annual NAPD conference, he exhorted the Minister to continue the reform process by overhauling the Leaving Cert exam.
A series of articles by exam students in The Irish Times this year had, he said, underlined how students had “cracked the code” of the Leaving Certificate.
“They know what’s required and how to achieve it. As long as the drive for points predominates in the minds of our Leaving Certificate students, we will only be tinkering with reform at senior cycle.”
He said some emerging proposals such as a new cross-disciplinary first year for all third level students would potentially decouple the Leaving Certificate and third-level entry. “This would complement the reform at Junior Cycle, resulting in well-rounded students capable of thinking for themselves.”
On education cuts, he said the creation of a new “two-tier” teaching profession – where new entrants were paid less – was a worrying development.
“The strength of our education system is the collegiality that exists within our schools and the support that this provides. Our young teachers deserve parity of esteem and I would urge you to revisit this decision and ensure that over time this unwelcome anomaly is removed and that the collegiality, which we cherish among our staff, is restored and preserved.”
He also warned how middle management structures in schools are “creaking at the core, with nothing but a skeleton service to support principals and deputy principals in the management of our schools”.
“We recognise that we will not be returning to what we had,” he continued. “However, as principals and deputy principals, snowed under with multiple administrative tasks, we need to see light at the end of the tunnel. We can’t continue indefinitely as we are. We can’t continue doubling up, prioritising and then often having to shelve urgent items, let alone the important items.”