A group of 40 schools has been picked to give regular feedback on the changes as they are being developed. They will take effect from 2014, with English and a group of short courses due to be included for the first assessment in 2017.
The system, which will include the awarding of 40% of marks in all subjects for continuous assessments, will be phased in.
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), whose radical reform proposals were backed by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn late last year, is starting work on its rollout, with revisions to the format for English.
It will be the first, full subject in which the new exams will take place, but courses in other subjects will be introduced a year later for students starting second level in 2015, and work on their development should begin later this year. These are likely to include a mix of core and non-core subjects, to include Irish.
The short courses that students will be able to take can be designed by schools themselves or they can opt for programmes designed by the NCCA. It is working on up to six or seven, and they will most likely include Chinese and computer coding, both areas in which higher levels of student qualification have been recommended for jobs growth.
John Halbert, NCCA director of curriculum and assessment, said schools may also be offered a template for courses in digital media, sustainable living, and possibly performance art.
“It could be drama, music or dance, for example, and this would give schools a chance to look at their curriculum and fill any gaps in their current range of subject choices,” he said.
“We expect to have those courses designed by the end of this year, so schools can either use them or take them as a guide to designing their own short courses in different areas.”
One of the most controversial aspects of the reform proposals is that schools and teachers would assess their own students for the entire short course programmes and for 40% of full subjects, rather than being externally assessed through the State Examinations Commission. These will be open to random inspection to ensure standards are maintained.
From next September, second-level schools have the option of limiting the number of subject new students take in the Junior Cert to eight. When fully in place, a student could choose six main subjects and four short courses for the qualification, for which a name has yet to be decided.
Mr Halbert said it was encouraging that over 120 of the country’s 730 secondary schools applied to join the Junior Cycle Network, with 40 selected schools to be notified this week. They will be to help the detailed development of courses and assessment methods, giving feedback to the NCCA.