Leaving Cert: Plenty of Larkin about for English students as standard proves pleasing

The higher-level English paper two for Leaving Certificate students was deemed fair and appropriately challenging by one teacher yesterday evening.

Jeremiah Power and Glenn Sheedy after sitting their engineering paper at Mayfield Community School, Cork. Picture: Daragh McSweeney

Other than some issues with the generic questions on the single text section, Kate Barry said she was pleased with the standard of the exam.

The poems of Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin on the course would have provided a rich source of material for a question about stories linked to contemporary Ireland, she said. The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) spokeswoman also liked a question on poet Philip Larkin, which should not attract formulaic answers, and she thought questions about Robert Frost and John Montague were fine.

Ms Barry thought a cultural context question about unacceptable behaviour was excellent, and a literary genre question about beginnings that create interest very student friendly.

Her sole strong criticism was about use of practically identical questions on each area within the single text section. She said only minor changes on character names differentiated questions on the three novels and those asked about the two plays were the same, even though Arthur Miller’s All My Sons and Shakespeare’s King Lear are very different plays.

“I think it’s a pity more effort isn’t put into individual questions tailored to each text,” said Ms Barry.

She considered the wording of a King Lear question dubious, but said an unseen poem about swans was a welcome choice.

For students at ordinary level, Ms Barry said candidates should have been happy with an exam that had few surprises. She liked a comparative question about other characters helping the hero or villain.

Although she did not like the unseen poem, she acknowledged this may have been a personal thing, and had similar criticisms about the use of almost identical questions in the single text section. Each text had an option asking whether one named character behaved badly towards another, she said as an example.

Galway All-Ireland minor hurling winners Donal Mannion, Ronan Glennon, and Conor Molloy, from St Brigid’s College, Loughrea, reviewing their engineering exam. Picture: Hany Marzouk

Larkin was also examined at ordinary level in a poetry section which Ms Barry considered fine, and which also featured Eavan Boland, Ted Hughes, and Michael Coady.

English was the second exam of the day for more than 5,000 student who were taking engineering for this year’s Leaving Certificate.

ASTI’s Kenny Donagher, who teaches at Summerhill College in Sligo, said this year’s higher-level exam gave students an opportunity to draw on their own experience. There were no major changes to the structure of questions, which connected with young people’s experience of cutting-edge technology in questions on topics like parking sensors, electric vehicles, and American football helmet.

“Questions on plastics processing, welding, robotics, and metal alloys are given a fresh look, and all questions start with a real-life context or application of the technology,” said Mr Donagher.

He said links that students could make to research skills gained in their project work during the year were also a welcome development. Up to a quarter of total marks have already been gained by students on this year’s project — it required them to make a remote control vehicle.

Leaving Certificate students Lauren Kervick, Tamison Baker, Cory Cullen, Katie Drohan, Tanya Murphy, and Rachel Whitty at Ramsgrange Community School, Co.Wexford. Picture: Mary Browne

On this year’s special topic around drones, students were asked about privacy, which Mr Donagher thought was a good example of how the subject gives students an opportunity to discuss the impact of technology as well as marrying a precision manufacturing skillset with a theoretical background knowledge. Those manufacturing skills were the subject of a practical examination in May, but Mr Donagher would like to see more girls’ schools provided with the specialist rooms and equipment to give them equal opportunities with boys to study the subject.

He said the ordinary-level written paper was accessible and well illustrated. “All questions allowed students to go from general to specific knowledge in their answers,” he said.

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