Schools ill-equipped to deliver Leaving Cert reforms, say science teachers

Plan to allocate 40% for research projects ‘cannot be implemented’ unless all schools have sufficient laboratory resources

Science teachers say most schools are ill-equipped to deliver new Leaving Cert reforms which will require students to complete laboratory-based research projects to be worth 40 per cent of their marks.

Senior cycle students will be required to complete research investigations from fifth year onwards in subjects such as physics, biology and chemistry.

The changes, aimed at reducing pressure facing students in the written exams at the end of sixth year and broadening how they are assessed, are due to be introduced to schools from September 2025.

However, in a report presented to Minister for Education Norma Foley, the Irish Science Teachers’ Association has expressed concern about the capacity of schools to deliver these changes.


In a poll of 320 teachers, the association says a large majority (82 per cent) do not feel they have sufficient resources to support these changes. A lack of access to laboratories, the absence of laboratory technicians in schools and access to equipment were all cited as big problems.

The report also says these additional components will “seriously impact” the availability of school laboratories to other classes such as Junior Cycle and transition year students, with less practical work carried out as a result.

It says this may also affect the availability of teachers for students who wish to participate in the BT Young Scientist Exhibition and other extracurricular activities.

The proposed changes are contained in draft curriculum specifications for Leaving Cert biology, chemistry and physics, drawn up by the State’s advisory body on the curriculum.

In addition, more than 90 per cent of teachers have expressed dissatisfaction with the allocation of 40 per cent of marks to these research components.

Most teachers felt this was too much. The most popular choice of marks for this coursework was 20 per cent, with the next most popular option being 10 per cent.

The association’s report maintains that such a heavy weighting of marks will result in additional stress on teachers and students, as well as increasing the risk of cheating associated with the use of AI and other tools.

Teachers also identified “major problems” with the clarity of learning outcomes in the draft syllabus for physics, chemistry and biology and favoured a list of mandatory student laboratory investigations to be conducted during the course.

The association proposes that marks for the research investigations be reduced to 20 per cent or 10 per cent for several years on a trial basis. It also calls for funding to ensure all schools have access to laboratory resources and equipment, as well as technical support from laboratory technicians.

If funding is not provided, it says alternative assessment models should be considered, such as an oral exam or marks allocated for evidence in students’ laboratory notebooks of their practical work.

Ms Foley has previously said that the changes are aimed at reducing pressure on students so their results will not be determined by their performance on a single day in the written Leaving Cert exams.

When asked recently if all schools will have access to laboratory equipment in the same way, she said: “I’ll be straight up and honest and say we cannot do everything overnight ... but it be our absolute intention that, where schools are stepping forward in any of the new subjects, that they will be supported to meet the challenges that the new subject provides. We’re committed to doing that.”

She added: “Since becoming Minister, a consistent message coming through is that our senior cycle students want broader choice and reduced pressure. That is why we are developing new specifications for senior cycle subjects with additional assessed components so that a student’s overall result will not be determined by their performance on one day in June.”

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent