Billy Ryle: Leaving Cert Overhaul Is Exciting And Progressive

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Guidance Counsellor Billy Ryle says the major overhaul of the Leaving Cert makes Norma Foley the most reforming Education Minister since Donagh O’Malley’s free secondary education in 1967…

On Tuesday, 29th March, Minister Norma Foley launched ambitious plans for a major overhaul of the Leaving Cert in a comprehensive document called ‘Equity and Excellence for All: where the student is at the centre of their Senior Cycle experience.’

The demand for a Leaving Cert package to meet the challenges of the 21st century has been growing for some time.

Minister Foley’s has certainly answered the call with a very progressive and exciting document which, if implemented, will enrich student’s educational experience, facilitate wellbeing and reduce student’s stress levels.

Continued below…


The reforms will allow students to follow a broad curriculum, develop their interests and skills and participate in an assessment process, 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 reformed Leaving Cert will include new subjects and revised curricula for all existing subjects.

There will be a significant emphasis on additional assessment components outside of the traditional final written exams.

The issue of teachers assessing their own students will be difficult to sell, but hopefully a resolution, satisfactory to all educational stakeholders, can be arrived at.

The proposed reforms are based on the Senior Cycle Review Advisory Report prepared by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), based on extensive research over four years.

The reforms aim to enrich students’ educational experience by providing choices to match their interests and by enhancing teaching and learning.

They are designed to reduce the pressure on students by utilising on-going assessment in addition to a terminal exam at the end of two years of study.

The reforms are designed to better support students, to reduce pressure while maintaining standards, to keep pace with the changes in practices internationally and to better prepare young people for the world ahead.

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,” which 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.

The published document has set out a vision and programme of work which encompasses the following:

• new curricula for subjects across senior cycle and updating subject content

• new subjects, providing greater choice for students to better reflect their range of interests and to 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 in 5th year, 2024

• changing the assessment procedure to significantly reduce reliance on final exams and introduce teacher-based assessment components

• as Leaving Cert subjects are revised, they will have assessment components worth 40% and a written exam worth 60% of the total marks, respectively

• the State Examinations Commission (SEC) will externally moderate all school-based forms of assessment

• the initial tranche of new and revised subjects will be available in September 2024, when students entering 5th 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 Cert students entering senior cycle in September 2023 will sit Paper 1 in English and Irish at the end of 5th year

• Oral exams 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 Cert 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 Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) 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

Guidance for schools and students on the plans for Senior Cycle reform is available at

• Billy Ryle is a Career Guidance Counsellor and Educational Commentator

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