In CETSS, we welcome the new Framework for the Junior Cycle, as it mirrors the student-centred approach of the Educate Together Blueprint for Second Level schools. We support its philosophy, Key Skills and Statements of Learning and welcome moves towards continuous assessment, shorter exams, replacement of grades, fewer subjects, short courses etc.
In principle, we would favour a fully continuous assessment-based model with local certification, one in which a reduction in both course content and the emphasis on summative assessment, would enable deeper learning outcomes. We look to countries such as Finland as a model of equality-based, student-centred teaching and learning and hope the Junior Cycle moves further in this direction in due course.
In the meantime, we shall seek to emphasise the following in our curriculum design, wherever possible:
- Inter-disciplinary learning
- Technology in the class-room
- The generation of primary data e.g. fieldwork, interviews, surveys
- The development of analytical skills
- Cooperative learning
- Intrinsic motivation by allowing students a greater say in what and how they learn
- Life-long learning
- Critical thinking
- Social, democratic and community values
- The ethical development and wellbeing of students
Students starting in September 2018, we study 8 Junior Cycle exams for certification, along with 4 Short Courses (Digital Literacy, Sustainability, Ethical education/Philosophy and PE). Whilst we shall work towards the exams in the 8 subjects, all subjects will be assessed continuously, with a combination of tests, assignments and projects. Regular feedback to parents will be provided on our Virtual Learning Environment and textbooks shall be limited to Maths and Technical Graphics.
All other teacher resources shall be produced locally or in collaboration with other Educate Together schools through virtual subject departments. Teachers will organise subjects into three annual periods; write unit plans for each period and to assess these units using a variety of summative and formative assessment methods. Whilst the unit plans would be grounded in the existing (often excellent) subject syllabi (and the forthcoming subject specifications); a more flexible approach to assessment would allow for greater student involvement in subject planning, more interdisciplinary learning and a freedom to respond to issues of public interest at a variety of local, national and international scales.
We will also promote inter-disciplinary learning using Finland’s Phenomenon-Based Learning initiative. Participation, collaboration and cooperation would also be assessed, along with the aforementioned academic ones.
Improved student experience
We believe that this model will lend greater cohesion to students’ progression through the education system. At the present time pupils move from a student-centred primary curriculum to an exam-based secondary one overnight. This, we contend, causes unnecessary stress for students and it makes learning an individual, rather than a 'team sport'.
Similarly, the content-driven nature of the Leaving Certificate causes problems for students in Third Level, as they are required to be self-motivated, critical thinkers.
We would argue that a more student-centred experience between 1st and 3rd year would provide a more logical transition to second level, as well as giving students the time to develop social and academic skills that would better prepare them for both the Leaving Certificate cycle and Third Level.
Implementing such an ambitious programme could be difficult in established schools for the following reasons (amongst others)
- Existing heavy work-loads and the need to prepare Leaving Certificate students
- Pre-existing, embedded preconceptions and assumptions about the function of schools as essentially exam-centred institutions
- A lack of agreement on the purpose of teaching and learning amongst the school community
We have a blank slate on which to build a learning community with a coherent understanding of teaching and learning; one where attitudes and skills are also valued and assessed. Not having older year groups in general and exam classes in particular, gives us the time and space to develop innovative programmes. Being part of a network of new schools committed to using technology in the classroom, we believe that we can develop high-quality resources collectively.
In accordance with the democratic nature of our school, all of the above issues have been discussed and agreed with our incoming parents and students alike. Finally, our recruitment process is also focused on finding excellent teachers who both share and agree with this vision and approach.
The school will offer a Transition Year Programme in due course. For the first three years of its existence, it will be compulsory.
The school will follow the Leaving Certificate Programme as set out by the DES, with as much of an emphasis on student-centred learning as possible. Our aim is to prepare people for life, work and further education.