Leaving Cert: Topical mixed with issues from the past in French and History papers

Pictured after the Leaving Cert French exam at Abbey Community College. Picture: Patrick Browne

The completion of French and history papers marked the conclusion of Leaving Certificate 2016 for some students yesterday.

More than 26,000 took Leaving Certificate French and the higher level exam taken by the majority of them brought up topics many would have prepared for their oral test earlier this year.

Eimear Holly, a subject spokesperson for the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI), was pleased to see this. She mentioned a question about family, in which the advantages or otherwise of being an only child or having siblings were to be discussed.

Some topical issues that students could write about included the 1916 commemorations, Ireland’s growing obesity problem, and Ireland as a multicultural country.

“These reflect Ireland as a nation looking to the past and to the future,” she said.

Ms Holly said the comprehension pieces were fair, and interesting, one being about online dating.

The other related to a French engineering student working to improve his English in London, highlighting a recurring theme on the exam about learning languages.

A later question sought student views about the importance attached in schools to maths and science subjects over foreign languages. Ms Holly said this reflected Ireland’s knowledge economy and the recent rise in numbers taking higher level Leaving Certificate maths.

“Students would be familiar with discussing the advantages of learning a language and this is another dimension to that topic,” she said.

While the upcoming Olympics or the ongoing Euro 2016 tournament in France did not appear as written questions, she suggested students could use these topics and sport if they chose to answer the question about obesity.

For ordinary level students, Ms Holly thought the written exam was very manageable and it was in line with those of previous years.

The comprehensions were relevant to young people, including advice on young people visiting Paris, films, a French singer, and a new student at a secondary school. She said the written section was wide and offered a good choice to students.

  • Close to 10,000 of over 12,500 students of Leaving Certificate history sat a higher level paper that opened with a documents question about the Nuremberg Rally.


Mary Higgins, a subject representative for the Teachers’ Union of Ireland, said it was a nice piece. So too was a question about 1916, asking about the main events and whether WB Yeats was write in describing Ireland as ‘changed utterly’ after the Rising.

She was positive about a question on social and economic change in Ireland between 1923 and 1945, but felt students would have been challenged by whether Harry Truman or Lyndon Johnson was the greater US president.

ASTI’s Oliver McCaul said the Nuremberg Rally was topical in context of far-right groups in Europe.

While students would have been pleased to be asked about the events of 1916, he thought many would have found the Yeats angle tricky. He said they could have responded thematically, or chronologically, and dealt with the rise of Sinn Féin or of militarism versus constitutional nationalism.

Mr McCaul considered other questions also relevant to current affairs which might have been paralleled in classes. For example, Russia’s interests in central Europe could be related to the current Putin regime, or an essay on European unity was topical ahead of this month’s Brexit vote.

Ms Higgins thought the ordinary level history paper documents question on the 1936 Jarrow March was fine, and the coincidental inclusion of a question about Muhammad Ali was very timely following his recent death.

She said there was a good spread of cases studies from the syllabus.

Mr McCaul thought the Jarrow March and unemployment in Britain could also be linked to the Brexit debate. He believed the ordinary level exam was well pitched at the estimated 2,600 students who were scheduled to sit it.


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