The Framework for Junior Cycle (2015) presents new opportunities for teaching and assessment that should enrich the learning experiences of students and their teachers within all contexts.
Following feedback on a draft single specification in 2015, the decision was taken to develop two separate specifications catering for two distinct school and student contexts. These specifications are informed by extensive research. In addition a broad consultation process, that included the voices of teachers and students, was co-ordinated by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. Similar to the Primary Language Curriculum, the Policy for Gaeltacht Education and the actions planned by the Department as part of the 20-Year Strategy for Irish 2010-2030, these specifications seek to promote the provision of high quality education through the medium of Irish and the use of Irish among young people and in Gaeltacht school communities.
The T1 specification seeks to address, in the first instance, those students who study all of their subjects through the medium of Irish and therefore is expected to be delivered in Gaelcholáistí, Scoileanna Gaeltachta and in Aonaid LánGhaeilge. The T2 specification is intended for use in schools that operate through the medium of English. The provision of two separate specifications for the first time means that the teaching and learning experience can be tailored for very different categories of students. In particular, the provision of the T1 specification means that the learning needs of the learners in Gaeltacht schools, particularly the needs of first-language speakers of Irish (and all-Irish schools – gaelcholáistí and gaelscoileanna) can be catered for in ways that were simply not possible under the old arrangements. The provision of the T1 specifications has been widely welcomed by Gaeltacht communities and organisations in supporting the implementation of the Gaeltacht School Recognition Scheme.
The introduction of the new specifications for Junior Cycle Irish represents a significant departure from existing approaches to the teaching, learning and assessment of Irish at junior cycle level. The new arrangements emphasise the importance of oral skills in the language for all students and are deliberately designed to foster students’ ability to use the language. Classroom based assessment of students’ oral language skills are used widely in other countries as they offer a much more authentic assessment of the students’ communicative abilities. All of this is designed to strengthen teaching and learning of Irish in junior cycle.
Both specifications (T1 and T2) place significant emphasis on Irish as a spoken language. This is reflected in the integrated strands, which structure the learning experiences of students throughout the three years of junior cycle – Communicative Competence, Language and Cultural Awareness and Learner’s Self-Awareness. The provision of opportunities for students to speak Irish, including interaction with other users, will be a key aspect of the learning activities in which students will engage in order to achieve the learning outcomes associated with these strands.
The Department remains committed to encouraging the use of spoken Irish. It is important to state that the assessment of oral language skills in Irish forms an integral component of the overall language learning experience and will occur in a number of ways in the new Junior Cycle specifications. In addition to the completion of a range of tasks that will require students to use and demonstrate their oral language skills in order to achieve the stated learning outcomes, oral language skills will also be formally assessed in Classroom-Based Assessment
(CBA) 2, in third year. This task will be linked to ongoing classroom exchanges and, therefore, will be a more authentic reflection of students’ interests and competence levels in Irish. Furthermore, students can also include texts that demonstrate their oral language skills in Irish for the purpose of CBA 1 – Learning Portfolio where it is specified that one portfolio item based on sound/ video must be included. This could for example, be a presentation, a speech, or a poem. These CBAs will be formally reported upon in each students’ Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement.
The previous oral examination was optional and taken by less than one third of students. The new assessment arrangements on the other hand require all students to engage in an assessment of their oral skills through a classroom based assessment. This gives a greater opportunity for all students to develop and enhance their oral language proficiency skills and to foster their ability to use the Irish language.
As part of the consultation process during the development of the specifications, much feedback emphasised the lack of choice with the current Junior/Senior Cycle syllabi as an issue. Many students noted that they have no choice and/or no voice on what texts to read/study. The desire to provide students with a choice of more modern, accessible texts, which would afford rich and relevant learning opportunities for students, across a range of genres with due regard to dialect of region (or dialect of choice), was echoed across much of the feedback from teachers, students and stakeholders more generally.
The integration of literature is a central facet of teaching and learning. Students are given opportunities to sample a selection of literature to support their learning over the three years of junior cycle. The development of language skills and the exploration of literary texts should be integrated in the classroom to aid language development. Literature supports the development of language and literacy, critical and creative skills, cultural understandings and personal development.
There is a recommended list of appropriate texts to support learning in first year and a list of compulsory genres with an internal choice of texts for second and third year. These texts are not separate to the teaching of the language but are an integral part of language teaching and will support the development of students’ language skills by providing students with appropriate examples of ordinary language in context, and a range of opportunities to speak and use the language. They are not separate to the teaching of the language but provide important source material and rich learning opportunities for students learning the language.
Sample examination papers are produced by the SEC, in consultation with the Department of Education and Skills (DES) and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), in advance of the first state examinations for any new subject or revised subject specification. These sample papers are produced as a guide to students, teachers and the public as to the structure and format of the new examination. Like ‘real’ examinations, they are produced with a high level of oversight and quality assurance to ensure their fitness for purpose. In addition, sample papers are previewed by subject experts in relation to the appropriateness of their content, the extent to which they are an appropriate assessment of the learning outcomes set out in the relevant specification, the language of their content, and the demand they present in relation to the time it would take to complete them.
In the case of Junior Cycle Gaeilge, sample papers were recently issued by the SEC to all schools. One Higher Level paper and one Ordinary Level paper was issued in respect of each of the T1 and T2 specifications. The sample papers highlight the features of the new examination structure and how the examination papers assess the level of student achievement of a significant sample of the learning outcomes contained in the specifications. To assist students manage their time during the examination, mark allocations are provided for questions and sections, and the spaces for responses to questions are indicative of the length of an appropriate response. The SEC is satisfied that the structure and content of the Junior Cycle Gaeilge sample papers are in full alignment with the thrust of Junior Cycle Reform, including the learning outcomes contained in the specification, and the overall reform of the assessment structures in place.
The SEC is confident that the published sample papers issued will assist students, teachers and the public, and in particular those presenting for the first “live” examinations in Junior Cycle Gaeilge in 2020, and is satisfied that they are in full accordance with the learning outcomes and assessment objectives set out in the subject specifications.
The Irish language is accorded special status in Ireland and is protected by various pieces of Legislation and in particular Article 8 of our Constitution which states that “The Irish Language as the national language is the first official language”.
The Education Act 1998 recognises the particular responsibility of the education system with regard to supporting the Irish language. The language has particular social, historical and educational importance and is part of the unique cultural heritage of the Irish people. It is an aim of Government to increase on an incremental basis the use and knowledge of Irish as a community language.
In recognising the linguistic, social and cultural importance of Irish and English in Ireland, both languages are included as core subjects in the national curricula for recognised primary and post-primary schools and centres for education in Ireland. This has been the case since the foundation of the State and the importance of the teaching of both languages in this way has been re-affirmed on a number of occasions by the State, including most recently in the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030.