I spent a short time as a teacher and I was very lucky to be involved in curriculum development – albeit curriculum development in agriculture in the South Pacific. No course had been established when I arrived and we set one up for the entire country based completely on continual assessment because we wanted people to have some practical experience of the subject they were dealing with when they left school. Therefore, I very much welcome the Minister’s proposed changes. I went through college where continual assessment formed part of the course, although when there is negative marking as part of the continual assessment it makes it very difficult from that perspective.

Today 60 CSPE students from Naas CBS came to Leinster House. I asked them if they would prefer continual assessment or a single examination. Strangely there was a 60:40 mix in the response (majority in favour of continual assessment). I asked those who said they would prefer continual assessment why they would prefer it. They made two valid points. They spoke about the stress of a single examination at the end of a three-year period or in the case of the leaving certificate at the end of a two-year period. They said they would prefer a series of tests or assignments over a period of three years. They also regarded it as advantageous to be working continually throughout the three-year period instead of having to cram in all the information into the two-month period before that one single examination. The Minister should not only consult with unions and teaching bodies, but also with students to ascertain what they feel would be of benefit to the educational system.

In recent weeks I met parents, principals and teachers who expressed other concerns to me. They are concerned about the consistency of the marking, particularly in certain schools. Teachers are concerned that personalities might be involved. In a small school, a student’s parent might be teaching him or her and there might be a particular perception of the credibility of the marking system in that case. I would prefer to see more external independent assessors involved, which might afford an opportunity for retired teachers or young teachers who have not been able to access educational employment to get involved in that aspect.

The other concern relates to the dumbing down of subjects. When I did the intermediate certificate, it was a respected examination because people could leave school at that stage and get into a trade. When I completed my leaving certificate it seemed to be a major examination. People with a leaving certificate got jobs – it was possible to get into the Civil Service with two honours in one’s leaving certificate. Now the minimum requirement is a basic degree and in some cases further qualifications are needed. I love history and I am concerned that subjects that are not part of the core subjects for the new junior certificate curriculum might lose priority in schools.

Small schools might not be able to provide the short courses required. They might have five students who want to do Chinese but are not able to do so.

Principals have pointed out to me that they are required to include religion even though it might not be considered a core subject. However, it is taking up considerable time in the school. We need to question the necessity of having to have religion as a core subject without it having an examination.