Squaring the Circle

After months of speculation we had an email from the Minister on Friday revealing the plans for the Leaving Certificate of 2021.

Well. No. We didn’t. What we had was an email that was somewhat high on ambition but was ‘yet to meet expectations’. Sigh.

Unfortunately, I’m in danger of giving out too much. I would like to try to be constructive, so…

What could the Leaving Certificate Certificate, 2021 look like?

First up, what are the limiting factors?

Top of the list has to be the most up-to-date health advice. Based on the advice for running schools, one scenario is that exams will be limited to two hours.

Curriculum gaps. This year’s cohort of students have lost a huge amount of time of their class contact. In 2020 they were out of school from mid-March until the Summer. They have now been out for 4 weeks. The most deliriously optimistic guess would have us back on 22nd February. It could, however be St. Patrick’s day or even after Easter before this year’s Leaving Certs will be back in a classroom.

These students will have missed out on 16 – 19 weeks of in-house tuition. With the school year being 33 weeks, that’s approximately 25% of tuition gone. (That’s not even taking into account the fact that the last few weeks are for revision.)

Yes, you say, we have been working hard with distance learning. And yes, I agree. However, not all students are able to engage with online learning. There may be factors such as access, mental health, etc, that prevent the student from engaging with digital platforms. In the interests of fairness, this needs to be recognised. Students cannot be put at a disadvantage if they cannot access the curriculum.

Curriculum Balance. There is no real template telling teachers how to teach their subjects, and in what order the syllabus must be covered. Some practical subjects may have projects finished by now, planning to cover theory using online learning if this situation were to materialise. Other may have focused on theory earlier, following the traditional way of working on the practical afterwards.

In short, it’s impossible to shorten the curriculum at this point, as this will disadvantage one cohort of students.

And a possible solution?

Choice. Choice will have to be a foundation characteristic of how to address the various issues.

  • As a general structure, take most papers and make them of a two hour duration
  • The paper will need to cover the range of the full syllabus, as students may have covered any area of it in their school time.
  • But, with the general structure known, students can be directed by their teachers to focus on the areas that they have covered in class. Maybe shorten some of the questions so that the maximum spent on some of these areas will be 30 minutes (2 hour paper, remember?)
  • In the cases there there is an external component there will need to be a balancing act
  • Has the school completed this component?
    • If yes, how do you account for those marks
    • If not, how do you avoid disadvantaging those students
  • One potential answer here would be to add a page to the exam paper. If the student fills out that he/she is being graded with the external component, then their time in the exam is cut slightly shorter, and they answer one question less.

This would be one really impressive balancing act to pull off, but it would be a good way to allow fairness for students.

Now, I’d never consider myself an expert in curriculum planning, but we need a starting point for any solution. Take ideas, trash them out, and trash them if needs be.

Our Leaving Cert students are hurting. Many of them are extremely anxious with the continual wave of leaks and kites that bounce different theories and scenarios around.

I sincerely hope that the Minister, the Department and the SEC can get around a table with our representatives, the Unions, and figure out a solution that will be fair to our Leaving Certs.

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