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Minister criticises A-levels as limiting

05-07-2007

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Minister criticises A-levels as limiting

05/07/2007 The Irish News


The exams that make or break students' university and employment prospects have been criticised by the education minister for forcing children to specialise too early.

Caitriona Ruane says she prefers the Republic's more rounded Leaving Certificate to A-levels, which have been the 'gold standard' for more than 50 years.

While the minister said she has no plans at present to introduce the Leaving Cert in the north, she is not ruling anything out.

Ms Ruane is the most high-profile figure to highlight shortcomings in the A-level system, although the exams have also been picked apart by some university heads.

In an interview today Ms Ruane says children should keep all their options open for as long as possible.

Some non-grammar schools in the north have already shown an interest in replacing the A-level with the Leaving Cert.

The Republic's two-year course aims to provide a broad, balanced education while also offering some specialisation towards particular career options.

On average children will sit nine or 10 Junior Certificate exams - the equivalent of the north's GCSEs - before choosing seven or eight Leaving Cert subjects, which must include Irish.

While pupils in the north usually sit as many subjects as their southern counterparts, the majority only study three A-levels.

Exam experts in the Republic say their system keeps more employment and higher education avenues open.

Most pupils take English, maths, a foreign language as well as exams covering business, the arts and sciences.

In the north, many pupils focus solely on science or arts subjects and dump English and maths.

While it has been argued that A-level study is more detailed, experts also point to research that shows the overall breadth and depth of the Leaving Cert holds up to the A-level standard.

Only one school outside the Republic offers the Leaving Cert - the International School of Martyrs in Libya.

It says the programme offers the best academic standards and subject spread.

"My own position is I think the Leaving Cert is better, I think it is broader. You don't specialise too early, you take six or seven areas and keep your options open," Ms Ruane says.

"I think in our system in the north we are specialising too early and closing down our options.

"If you are asking me 'am I going to bring the Leaving Cert in here?' I'm not. We need to keep all options open. I am also aware that there is a European baccalaureate, that in the south some children from ethnic minority communities are taking.

"What we have to do is create a very flexible education system."

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