OPINION: Welcome to Senior Cycle Reform – Senator Louth Erin McGreehan

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As the weather improves, many of us are thinking back to previous years and the home stretch before exams start. As the sun shines, it is timely to see the announcement of a major reform of the higher cycle to offer a modern, flexible study program that meets the diverse needs of students.

This week, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) Advisory Report on the Postgraduate Examination was released and outlined an ambitious plan for postgraduate reform. It is the product of a huge effort to work closely with many parts of society and, in particular, with those whose lives are lived in schools – teachers and students. It is greatly enriched by the extensive consultation that has been undertaken – including over 4,000 written responses to a general survey – and is the culmination of international research, focus groups, national seminars, public consultations, analyzes and a number of published reports.

When we reform, we must reform for the better and ensure that there is a tangible improvement in the experience of our young people going through higher education. The reinvented secondary cycle will ensure that all learning pathways in school are equally accessible and valued, and that the diversity of students’ learning needs and strengths are taken into account . Importantly, this will also integrate well-being more into the curriculum and into our schools and help reduce student stress levels.

In practice, this new approach will help students follow a broad curriculum, develop their interests and skills, and participate in a final assessment process in line with international best practice. This will support students in their next phase of life, be it third level, further education and training, apprenticeship or the world of work.

The evaluation of the subjects is being rearranged so that the final written test is worth a maximum of 60%. This will ensure that each subject has an additional component, assessed by teachers and moderated externally by the State Examination Commission (SEC), which will be worth 40%. This will begin with the introduction of revised curricula in several subjects from 2024 and will be school-based with external moderation and the involvement of the State Examinations Commission.

We will see welcoming new and updated content throughout the senior cycle. I am happy to see that two new subjects will be added to the curriculum. Since climate change remains the biggest issue facing society as a whole, students will be able to study climate action and sustainability, as well as film, drama, and theater studies.
A revised transition year curriculum statement from 2024 will guide schools in providing an updated TY experience for students.

It is important to note that the reform measures recognize the different strengths of our students and that the established school leaving certificate, the applied school leaving certificate and the professional program will strive to remove the barriers between the three programs and to offer flexible learning so that the different types and styles of learning within each of the programs will be available to all students.

I wholeheartedly agree with An Taoiseach’s view of education when he said that it is “the most powerful engine of opportunity, economic prosperity and social progress” and that it “transforms lives, communities and countries”.
In an ever-changing modern world, every country must have an evolving and responsive education system. Our students are European and global students, and we must help them maintain their rightful place among the best students in the world.

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