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Educational Reform

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 23 November 2021

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Ceisteanna (57)

Richard Boyd Barrett


57. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Education if she will give a full report on the recent discussions her Department has been having on reform of the leaving certificate; the timeline for changes to same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57644/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Education)

It is our view the leaving certificate should go because it has outlived its usefulness. It is a gatekeeping and streaming exercise which perpetuates inequality and limits or streams access to third level education. The Minister might not agree with all of that but she has committed to some sort of review of the leaving certificate. I want to know the status of that review because, particularly after Covid, a root-and-branch review is long overdue.

I appreciate the question and the sincerity with which it is put. The Deputy may be aware that, between 2016 and 2020, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, undertook an extensive review of senior cycle programmes and vocational pathways. The NCCA’s advisory report on the senior cycle has been submitted to my Department for consideration and will be published once that consideration is complete. I am aware of the desire in the education community and more generally for that to happen, but we must complete our consideration of the report. I am focusing on what the implementation of the report would involve and what we can do to best ensure the further evolution of the senior cycle.

As the consideration of the advisory report has continued, my officials have had contact with officials in the NCCA and the State Examinations Commission, SEC, to ensure there is a clarity of understanding on some matters identified in the report. I have had a considerable number of briefing sessions and meetings with relevant officials in my Department as our consideration of the NCCA advisory report has continued.

In addition, I recently attended an NCCA meeting to thank the council and acknowledge its work in developing the advisory report. I also opened the recent Joint Managerial Body conference, the theme of which was A Senior Cycle for All.

In respect of the advisory report, the review considered a number of areas, including the question of the overall purpose of senior cycle education, as the Deputy referenced, how to establish continuity and progression, and the pathways available to students. The review involved a broad range of research, consultations, and communications with a broad range of stakeholders, including very importantly, students themselves, on all aspects of review and redevelopment. The NCCA also commissioned external expertise, which is also important, to support the process, including the ESRI and the OECD.

A lecturer in UCD told me that much of the modern examination system originated with efforts to populate the civil service in British-controlled colonial China. I do not know if it is true, but it is a structure that is about enforcing certain norms and notions of hierarchy. That is still true of the leaving certificate. There are some dinosaurs in the North or in Britain who might hark back to the days of the 11 plus, when people's access to secondary education was streamed through exams. We now think that is horrible. The time has come for us to have the same attitude towards accessing third-level education. I do not see how the leaving certificate is anything other than a gatekeeping exercise, a streaming exercise and an unnecessary stress that does nothing to encourage education and has long outlived its usefulness.

I appreciate the point the Deputy made. Covid has focused our lens even more closely on how the leaving certificate and senior cycle operates. To be fair, the entire review involves all of the senior cycle, and, therefore, includes the leaving certificate applied, the leaving certificate established and the leaving certificate vocational programme. We are also referring to the transition year programme as well. I agree that when we are looking at the senior cycle, we must look at it in its entirety.

I acknowledge that within the report there has been an opportunity to consider what we have currently and what works well, but also to go beyond that and to consider the key question, which is if there is a pathway for all within education where every child's needs are met within the education system and there is an opportunity for everybody to progress to whatever level or to take whatever pathway they might wish to follow.

I am especially pleased that the review has consulted widely and that students have been at the centre of it, and also that there is outside expertise. There is an urgency attached to moving ahead with senior cycle reform. I confirm that I am conscious of that and cognisant of it.

Could the Minister be more specific about when the report will be published and when this is going to happen? This cannot be long-fingered. As she said, Covid has highlighted the inadequacies that were there, but it has shone a sharp light on the problems and the unfairness of the leaving certificate. It is unfair to put large numbers of students through the incredible and unnecessary stress it imposes on them. That is damaging to the intellectual development and confidence of many students. Given that we recognise that it has gone past its state of usefulness, as long as it is remains in use when it is outdated, it is damaging. There is a certain urgency in the root-and-branch review that is necessary to remove any barriers or hierarchies in terms of accessing the next level of education.

I appreciate the points the Deputy has made and the urgency with which he views the question. The review was four years in the making and involves a considerable body of work. There was the widest consultation, rightly, with all the partners in education – parents, teachers, wider society, obviously students as well, and also the views and experiences of experts from other jurisdictions. Therefore, it demands a level of consideration that is important. As I previously outlined to the Deputy, it has involved further engagement with the NCCA on points of clarification. It has also involved work with the secondary education committee, SEC. I appreciate the urgency attached to the review. I assure him that it will be published in the shortest timeframe. I am confident that it will set a pathway forward.