The number of students tested in spoken Irish for Junior Certificate has hit another record high, but thousands of teachers face a union ban on conducting the optional exams.
Some 52,500 of this year’s students took Irish exams, with 20,220 receiving marks for the optional oral test. This 38.5% uptake of the oral exam is an increase from 32% a year ago, and fewer than 400 students in 2007.
The number of schools where the oral option is being offered rose from fewer than 160 in 2012 to 309 last year and has now reached 357, just under half of the country’s 720 second-level schools.
The surge has been linked to pressure in preparing students for the Leaving Certificate oral, for which marks increased from 25% to 40% of total in the subject from 2012.
Because the State Examinations Commission (SEC) does not pay examiners for Junior Certificate orals as it does for Leaving Certificate languages, unions have been concerned about the integrity of the process.
The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (Asti) recently introduced a directive that members must not assess or prepare any students for these optional exams. They have been told that adhoc arrangements in which schools ask teachers to mark their own students or those of their colleagues, or bring in other teachers to conduct Junior Certificate oral tests, are unacceptable.
The ban applies to other languages also, with school-level oral test marks notified to the SEC and combined with written exam scores to calculate final grades.
SEC data provided to the Irish Examiner shows that 5,401 students will receive a grade in Junior Certificate French that includes oral marks, or 17% of those examined in the subject. The corresponding figures for Spanish, German, and Italian are 2,959 (33%), 1,638 (13%), and 194 (42%), respectively.
Exam results data also reveals that the proportion of students taking higher-level maths has steadied off at just over 55%. This is more or less the same as last year, when increases peaked after rising from 48% in 2012, due to a combination of syllabus reform and knowledge of the bonus college-entry points for those passing higher-level Leaving Certificate maths.
Among those 32,830 students taking the honours papers, performance continues to improve. The numbers with honours (A, B, or C) grades exceeds 76%.
With numbers failing higher-level maths at Leaving Certificate being a recent focus of attention, corresponding figures among this year’s Junior Certificate students are more encouraging.
After climbing from 3.3% in 2013 to over 4% on each of the last two years, the proportion of honours candidates who got an E, F, or NG (no Grade) slips back to 3.6%. This still means nearly 1,200 were unable to pass the exam and might have been better advised to opt for ordinary level instead.
At that level, numbers failing have risen from 4.6% to 6.1% since 2014. However, an influential factor may be the combination of more students who might previously have taken ordinary level now choosing higher level, and fewer now taking the foundation level maths option for weaker students.
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