One-third of students take optional oral Irish

Nearly one-third of Junior Certificate students this year did an optional oral Irish test that was not conducted by State examiners despite union opposition to such practices.

The 16,529 students getting a grade today that includes marks for oral Irish make up 32% of those examined in the subject. They did the test at 309, or 43%, of the country’s 720 second-level schools.

In 2007, only 339 students did the oral Irish at Junior Certificate, but that had risen to 7,387 in 2012 and at less than 160 schools and to 14,172 students at

The figures emerge as more than 59,500 students receive their results, 1% fewer than last year. Their marks in 26 different subjects have been sent out by the State Examinations Commission, which congratulated all those getting results.

The rise in oral Irish uptake may be due to pressure on schools to prepare students for Leaving Certificate, where marks for the spoken exam have been worth 40% of total marks since 2012, instead of a previous 25%. But the increase comes against a background of teacher union concerns.

Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan said she very much welcomed the continual rise in numbers taking the optional oral Irish exam, as well as optional orals in Spanish and Italian.

The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland does not permit members to test their own students for State exams. The Teachers’ Union of Ireland only allows members do so in limited circumstances where it is done in timetabled classes, or else they are paid for the work, and where suitable training is provided.

While the unions say that schools may be organising for outside teachers or retired teachers to come in to carry out the tests, the work is still done without payment by the SEC and with marks submitted through schools without any benchmarking of marking standards.

Concerns about potential discrepancies between grades and marks awarded at different schools were among the chief issues raised by the ASTI and TUI in opposing earlier versions of junior cycle reforms that have been revised in talks with Ms O’Sullivan’s officials.

The 27,000 second-level members of both unions will vote this month on the final plan, under which Junior Certificate exams would continue to be set and marked by the SEC.

Teachers would mark their own students in school-based assessments, but with strict procedures on deciding marking standards, and full training promised on the new assessment methods.

ASTI president Máire G Ní Chiarba said the Junior Certificate is valued by students and parents as an independent State-certified validation of students’ knowledge, skills and efforts.

“All students are treated equally in this State exam, which ensures a high level of quality and equity across the system,” she said.

While the average Junior Certificate student took 10 subjects this year, many will have taken more, but under reform plans there will be an upper limit of 10 subjects.

This year’s students include six who have received 12 As in higher level subjects. A further 98 got 11 higher level As and 236 have been awarded 10 As in honours papers, with 21,731 people getting at least one higher level A.

The numbers registered as re-entrants to education, are down from 878 last year to 756.

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