With students around the country currently sitting their Leaving Cert exams, a Laois secondary school principal has called for this year’s system to continue to promote a great culture of ongoing learning instead of all the focus being on the exams.
This year students will be rewarded calculated grades by their teachers but can also sit the exam – and take whichever result is better.
Noel Daly, who is principal of the ever-expanding Portlaoise College, says that 90% of their students chose to sit the exams but that the atmosphere in the school is totally different than what it was in previous years.
“There is not the same pressure on the students because they know they are getting the accredited grades. They are getting two bites at the cherry,” he said on this week’s LaoisToday Podcast which will be available to listen to on Wednesday.
“They have the accredited grades and can go in and prove themselves in the exam – can get the best of both worlds.
“There wasn’t the same high level intensity (at the start of exams). We didn’t have that big mass of people. Tension is caused by having all these people nervous around you.
“Students know too they’re going in and if everything goes pear-shaped, they have the back up.”
And going forward, Daly would like to have a hybrid version where a considerable portion of a student’s grade is given before the exam. He says continuous assessment lends itself to a far greater learning environment, while accepting that a traditional exam still has plenty of merit.
“My own background, as engineering teacher, always had continuous assessment and it’s really beneficial. Allows students to do their best all day every day. We want students learning continuously all the time.
“Some students can take foot off gas – doesn’t lend itself to great engagement. Continuous assessment for a greater length of time works better.
“What I’m focused on is day to day teaching and learning. Want them to engage for as long as you can.”
He says the beauty of a “terminal exam” is that it is entirely impartial but it “really favours a certain style of learning”, benefiting those who have good recall or a photographic memory.
“Not everyone learns that way. You need another set of skills. A person who is good at project work, research, working as part of a team – we need to be assessing those.
“Being able to recall information is not the skill it used to be.”
Going forward he would like to see a “hybrid type version – each subject should have elements of both”.
He says that while calculated grades can be tough on teachers in one way, “teachers are professionals”. “They know their students best. There is nothing to fear there.
“I know these things have to be negotiated but would be nice to be able to reward students for all aspects of their learning.
“We can accept change, we don’t have to fear changes.”
And he says that the last year has shown how schools can adapt and learning goes on.
“Life doesn’t stop if you can’t do the Leaving Cert. Leaving Cert is part of process – (learning) shouldn’t revolve around one lifetime exam.