Jan O’Sullivan is a Labour Party TD who represents the Limerick City constituency. She is a former pre-school and secondary school teacher who became involved in politics in Limerick through Jim Kemmy and the Democratic Socialist Party which later merged with the Labour Party. She was elected to Seanad Éireann in 1992 and was subsequently elected to Dáil Éireann in 1998. She now serves as Minister for Education and Skills.
Opinion piece from Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan TD, on junior cycle reform
Change to Irish second-level education has been a long time coming.
During her time as Minister for Education in the late 1980s, Mary O’Rourke TD announced that the Inter Cert and Group Certs would be abolished and replaced with the Junior Cert for all students entering school in September 1989.
There was much talk at that time of the change in teaching and learning that would be brought about as the result of curricular changes. The curriculum was introduced along with an indication that school-based assessment would follow. It never did; and despite repeated attempts to reform the junior cycle since then, no progress has been made.
Last July, I was appointed Minister for Education and Skills. It is the honour of my career to have been appointed to this role – a position that gives me the opportunity to improve the education and opportunities offered to all of our people.
Since my appointment, I have met with the leadership of the ASTI and TUI on many occasions. I have also met with all of the other partners in the education system, and have listened with interest as a variety of possible solutions to end the dispute and introduce a reformed junior cycle were raised.
I am interested in results. I have been prepared to compromise and have sought the same from other parties. This is how agreement is reached. But I have also made clear that I would not countenance any compromise that would prevent us from delivering the changes that our students need and deserve.
The document published last month will deliver those changes.
Back in 2011, the proposals that came from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment put forward four important elements to junior cycle: an exam at the end of three years; other types of projects that would be assessed in schools during second and third year; new short courses to allow students to explore new types and areas of learning; and the introduction of priority learning units for students with special needs. The document published in May delivers all four of those elements.
I believe that exams at the end of third year are an important opportunity for students to be assessed on key dimensions of their learning over the previous three years. I know the value that parents put on the outcomes from these exams, but I don’t believe that exams should be allowed to crowd out the other valuable ways in which students could, and should, be assessed, all of which can really improve learning and outcomes.
Students will now have the opportunity to undertake two classroom-based assessments – projects, field trips, science experiments or oral presentations are examples of the tasks they will undertake. These will be assessed in the classroom, with teachers giving their students important feedback on how they are progressing. Students will complete a short report on the second of these, outlining what they have learned, and this along with the exam will be graded by the State Exams Commission. The document published last month is explicit in stating that these classroom-based assessments will not be viewed as second-class compared to the exam, but rather an integral part of Junior Cycle.
At the end of three years in second-level education, students will receive a Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement from their school. This document will include the results from the exams at the end of third year, as well as the classroom-based assessments, short courses and extracurricular achievements of the student. For the first time, parents will be given a picture of their child’s achievements that recognises a range of talents and skills, not just an exam result.
It may have taken a long time, but change to second-level education has come at last.