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School Curriculum

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 4 July 2018

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Questions (54)

Kathleen Funchion


54. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Education and Skills if consideration has been given to a provision which would enable students to complete junior cycle music with an approved tutor external to the school setting in view of the fact that it is not a subject offered in all schools. [29605/18]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Education)

This question is on music and the junior certificate cycle. Has any consideration been given to a provision whereby students could complete junior cycle music with an approved tutor external to the school setting given that it is not a subject offered in all schools?

I thank the Deputy for the question. The framework for the junior cycle presents a dual approach to assessment and it supports student learning over the three years of the cycle. It measures achievement at the end of those three years. This dual approach reduces the focus on one externally assessed examination as a means of assessing students and increases the prominence given to classroom-based assessment and formative assessment, providing a more rounded assessment of the education of each young person. This change of emphasis arises from an acknowledgement that students learn best when teachers provide feedback that helps students to understand how their learning can be improved. As part of the phasing in of the new framework for the junior cycle, the new junior cycle music specification will be introduced to schools from September 2018.

The junior cycle profile of achievement is a school-based award issued by schools that draws upon and reports on achievement across a wide range of assessments, including classroom-based assessments by teachers, as well as State examinations marked by the State Examinations Commission. The assessment of a number of practical subjects, including music, for the purpose of the junior cycle profile of achievement will comprise two classroom-based assessments undertaken in recognised schools, a practical examination and a written examination.

Where students take extra subjects outside of their school setting, these subjects cannot satisfy the requirements for classroom-based assessments by recognised schools and cannot, therefore, be included as part of the profile of achievement. Students who wish to study additional subjects, such as music, outside their school have a number of other certification avenues open to them.

I welcome the changes that allow for more classroom-based assessment and more continuous assessment. I am a great advocate of these. They should be introduced at leaving certificate level also. I often talk about this. We should not have so much emphasis on one or two examinations, bearing in mind the pressure they bring.

Music is a particular and unique subject. Many smaller schools, particularly in rural areas, do not offer it because they do not have the resources or teachers, yet the Department's primary school curriculum document acknowledges music offers lifelong opportunities for the development of imagination, sensitivity, inventiveness, risk-taking, enjoyment, creativity and self-esteem. So many people have such talent in this area that it would be a shame not to look outside the box a little where a school cannot offer music to determine whether the subject could be offered by external tutors. The reality is that most students taking music in a school that offers it will be getting additional help from an outside tutor in any case. Perhaps this is something we could consider.

Music is offered in just short of 600 post-primary schools out of a total of 711. Therefore, the vast majority offer it. When the National Council for Curriculum Assessment developed the curriculum, the question of students studying the subject on an external basis was discussed but it was agreed, through the development process and subsequent consultation, that the specification and its assessment, particularly as the latter featured the new school-based classroom assessment, should be designed for study within the school in the first instance. It was felt there is an intricate connection. It was felt it was appropriate to have the teacher carry out the classroom-based assessment and the teaching in a school setting that is also an examination centre for the written examination.

In all cases to date, students who sit the music examination do so in their own school, not in an external location. What the Deputy proposes was ruled out but it is not categorically ruled out for all time. To be a recognised school, a school has to deliver an entire curriculum. Fragmenting the curriculum, with a bit run in a specialist Gaelscoil, a bit in a specialist Irish language centre and another bit in a specialist Irish music centre, for example, would result in the breaking up of the system. It is then harder to deliver a coherent curriculum and have a unified State examination system. That seems to have been the consideration. As this evolves and beds in, it can be reviewed.

I thank the Minister. I am glad he is not completely closed to considering this again. As he said, just a handful of schools are affected. The reason we raise this, however, is that one or two people have come to us about this. What I propose would obviously not be workable for the majority of subjects but music is regarded in a particular way and is unique in that sense. In special education, some people have home tutors who are accredited by the Teaching Council. Something similar could be done with music tutors for students in a school that does not offer music where those students wish to sit the junior certificate music examination. Many people have a talent in this area and want to continue with music. If one has not done music at junior certificate level, it is very difficult to do so at leaving certificate level. There is usually a barrier in that regard.

Where schools do not offer music, I ask the Minister to consider having a system involving external tutors. I agree there could not be external tutors for every single subject but I propose them for music because of its unique nature. There are similar models. The tutors in the home tutor programme in the education system are external tutors but they are accredited by the Teaching Council.

The Deputy probably answered her question. The philosophy is that education is integral and that a school should not have music or another subject as a specialism that is outsourced. The thinking is to have a whole-school approach whereby a child, particularly in the junior cycle, can have a range of experiences delivered in an integrated way and develop his or her own personality. Disintegrating them is not the philosophy behind the junior cycle. As the Deputy said, home tuition would not be regarded as optimal in many situations. Mainstream and integrated education are preferred because education is ultimately a social activity. That is the reason the presumption has been against the model suggested by the Deputy. When the system beds in, all these matters will be re-examined. It is only starting in September so it needs the three-year run. We will see how that evolves.