Reform of Senior Cycle Education Announced

By Steven Galvin - Last update


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Ambitious plans for a reform of Senior Cycle education for post-primary students has been announced this week.

According to government, the three tenets of Senior Cycle reform are to:

  • empower students to meet the challenges of the 21st century
  • enrich the student experience and build on what’s strong in our current system
  • embed wellbeing and reduce student stress levels

This new approach will enable students to follow a broad curriculum, develop their interests and skills and participate in a final assessment process consistent with international best practice, which will support them in their next phase of life whether that’s third level, further education and training, apprenticeships or the world of work.

The redeveloped Senior Cycle will include the development of new subjects and revised curricula for all existing subjects, which will be informed by the views of students and teachers in a co-creation process. These will include a significant emphasis on additional assessment components outside of the traditional final written exams.

The reform programme has been informed by the Senior Cycle Review Advisory Report prepared by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), which was also published today.

Reform of Senior Cycle Education Announced

Minister for Education Norma Foley said:

“I am setting out a new plan for Senior Cycle education in Ireland.

“This is an ambitious programme of reform. It will enrich students’ educational experience by increasing their choices to match their interests and enhancing teaching and learning.

“It will reduce the pressure on students that comes from final assessments based primarily on examinations. We will move to a model that uses other forms of assessment, over a less concentrated time period, in line with international best practice.

“It will enable us to maintain the high standards and quality that we need to continue to achieve in our schools to serve our students well and support them to take the next steps in their career journey, whatever that may be.

“The second half of post-primary education, Senior Cycle, prepares our students to progress to the next stage in their lives. Whether they choose a path of further training, apprenticeship, higher education or employment, it is vital that the education and the opportunities they receive in their school life at second level develops them academically, nurtures them as people and supports them to grow their talents, interests and skills.

“It is then vital that the form of assessment we use both reflects excellence in standards and truly enables all students to showcase their abilities.

“Our current system has many strengths. But we know that it can be improved, to better support our students, to reduce pressure while maintaining standards, to keep pace with the changes in practices internationally and to meet the needs and expectations of our students and of our society in preparing our young people for the world ahead.

“The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment has produced an excellent advisory report on the review of senior cycle. It is based on extensive research, conducted over four years. It captures the views of education partners across every aspect of senior cycle, giving real weight to the student voice and experience, the learnings of educators, the international experience.

“I have considered the report carefully, and have also been informed by the learnings we have garnered from reflecting on the experiences of Leaving Certificate 2020 and 2021, the value of the involvement and reflections of students, educators and other experts both nationally and internationally, including the OECD.

“The plan I have set forth today is informed by all of these. This programme is timely and ambitious – we must not rush, but cannot delay. The timing I have set out will ensure that students will feel the benefits at the earliest possible time, with notice of these in advance.

“It is important to ensure real and meaningful input on each element by subject matter experts. The establishment of network schools will support immediate collaboration and feedback mechanisms and ensure that we can swiftly adapt learnings to support the implementation of these across all of our subjects and schools.

“Over the recent, most challenging period, our students and our school communities have led the way in showing how resilient, how innovative, how creative they can be. There is a national consensus that our young people deserve the best possible education system we can offer. The Programme for Government commits to reforming Senior Cycle and including the views of experts, students, and parents and is undoubtedly the best way to achieve this.

“I look forward to working closely with our students, school communities, education partners, to co-create subject curricula and to collaborate across the work to bring this vision of enhanced experience, excellence and equity alive for all of our students.”

Minister Foley has set out a vision and programme of work which encompasses the following:

  • introduction of new curricula for subjects across Senior Cycle, updating subject content
  • the introduction of new subjects, providing greater choice for students to better reflect their range of interests and support the development of a wider range of talents and skills. Two new subjects – Drama, Film and Theatre Studies; and Climate Action and Sustainable Development, will be ready for students in network schools starting fifth year in 2024
  • changing the final assessment procedure to significantly reduce reliance on final examinations and introduce teacher-based assessment components
  • as Leaving Certificate subjects are revised they will have assessment components additional to the conventional written examination worth 40% of the total marks; with the written examination worth 60% of the final score
  • the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and SEC will jointly research and define, in consultation with education partners, how an SEC-externally moderated, school-based form of assessment would operate
  • the initial tranche of new and revised subjects will be available in September 2024, when students entering fifth year in network schools will study updated subject curricula, with updated assessment models in the optional subjects of Chemistry, Physics, Biology and Business
  • to ensure a positive impact on students as soon as possible, Leaving Certificate Established students entering Senior Cycle in September 2023 will sit Paper 1 in English and Irish at the end of fifth year
  • it is intended that into the future Oral examinations and the Music practical performance will take place during the first week of the Easter break of 6th year as is the case this year
  • to enhance students’ options further, Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) students will have improved access to Mathematics and Modern Foreign Languages from September 2022, broadening the options for LCA
  • a new qualification will be introduced at level one and two on the National Qualification framework to provide an appropriate level of assessment to some students with special educational needs, building on the equivalent programme at Junior Cycle level
  • a revised Transition Year programme will be established, and greater access to Transition Year for all students will be encouraged

A Senior Cycle Programme Delivery Board will be established which will have responsibility for overseeing the achievement of actions forming part of this suite of reforms.

A detailed implementation plan will be developed through ongoing collaboration and co-creation and consultation with education partners, including teachers, students, school leaders and parents.

Minister Foley has requested the NCCA to invite a selection of schools, representative of the different types and sizes of schools, to become “network schools”.

Network schools will be given the opportunity to participate at an early stage in revised curriculum and assessment arrangements. These schools will receive support through a variety of forms to enable their participation.

Guidance for schools and students on the plans for Senior Cycle reform is available at gov.ie/SeniorCycle.


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Steven Galvin

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