The Ombudsman for Children has warned that more than 800,000 students will have gone through the Leaving Cert since the United Nations found it causes a “disproportionate” level of stress, if reform continues at the current pace.
Dr Niall Muldoon was addressing the Oireachtas education committee on Tuesday.
The committee was continuing with its discussion on reforming the Leaving Cert, hearing from children's rights advocates, and the National Parents’ Council Post Primary (NCP-PP).
In 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of Children recommended that Ireland reform the Leaving Cert, as the terminal exam was found to be a disproportionate level of mental stress on the young people, the Ombudsman told the committee.
While there is a separate body of work, running separately to the Oireachtas committee discussions, to reform the Leaving Cert, 2030 is the proposed date that major reforms will be introduced.
“If you assume 60,000 children do [the Leaving Cert] every year, since 2016, when the UN heard from our children in Ireland and asked us to review it, by 2030 you will have 800,000 children who have gone through that system, the same way as it always was.
“We've got to speed up in that process and the voice of the children has to be high up in that planning,” he added.
The committee also heard calls from the Children’s Rights Alliance to retain school-based assessments as part of Leaving Cert 2022. Tanya Ward, its chief executive, told the committee that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child obliges the State to make the best interest of the child a “primary consideration".
There are 17 different partners that make decisions around the education system, with just the Irish Second-Level Students Union (ISSU) directly representing young people, she added.
The ISSU previously told the Oireachtas committee that the Leaving Cert "cannot go back" to what it used to be, following two years of major changes.
Ms Ward said: "What I'm very concerned about is particularly with the different restrictions that young people have experienced around Covid, there's a lot of children and young people out there with very poor mental health and poor emotional well being."
Many of them have the Leaving Cert ahead of them, she added.
"Reform of the Leaving Cert is a critical thing that has to happen, but it's going to take time. So what we would urge and recommend in the interim is to retain the school-based assessments, within the Leaving Cert.
Dr. Niall Muldoon added that the Office of the Ombudsman for Children endorses the ISSU's calls for exams to be spaced out and for greater diversity in their assessment methods, as well as that there is a need to “capture and reward students’ learning abilities, and not just their memory. Any deliberations or proposals need to put young people first, he added.