Despite Education Minister Mary Hanafin’s hopes to sit parts of exams in some subjects earlier next year, any sudden syllabus changes have been ruled out.
A spokeswoman for the minister stressed that any changes would only be in the timing of some papers and would not affect the courses being taught in these subjects.
This was confirmed by the State Examinations Commission (SEC) which has been in discussions with the Department of Education on the issue.
“It is about changing explicitly just the timing of some papers, not the content or the structure of any exams,” an SEC spokeswoman said.
“Likewise, a paper that is worth 20% up to now would continue to be worth the same, even if it was sat earlier in the year,” she said.
The department spokeswoman said Ms Hanafin would like to see a second element of some exams beginning sometime in 2007, but this would not require any syllabus change.
“We’re talking about taking a paper earlier, perhaps in English or Irish, to take the pressure off the written exams in June for students,” she said.
The SEC has been considering complaints from students and parents that too much written work is crammed into the first week of exams every summer, with two papers in English, and Irish in the first three days requiring up to 12 hours of writing for most students.
The department spokeswoman said other variations to the Leaving Certificate programme would be rolled out over a longer period.
Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) education officer John MacGabhann said changes to exam structures would require changes to the relevant syllabi.
“There is an established procedure through which new syllabi are devised and approved, and we’re not aware of any suggestions that this process would by set aside,” said Mr MacGabhann.
He is also a member of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) which is responsible for syllabus review and change and is preparing amendments to its own proposals for senior cycle change. It had suggested radical amendments to the Leaving Certificate, changing it to a three-year programme including a series of short, medium-length and long courses.
This scale of change has been effectively ruled out by Ms Hanafin, but she has asked the NCCA to develop its suggestion of second component exams which could be sat by students earlier in the final year of the senior cycle.
The first examination of new courses in Leaving Certificate history and geography this year has been known about for the past four years, as they include new portfolio aspects which will be submitted earlier in the year.