Artificial intelligence poses cheating risk to Leaving Cert, teachers warn

Reforms aim to reduce pressure on candidates by spreading assessment load, Norma Foley says

The risk of students cheating in the Leaving Cert by using artificial intelligence (AI) will increase under reforms which will see students awarded up to 40 per cent of marks for coursework, secondary teachers have warned.

Senior-cycle students will be required to complete research investigations and project work from fifth year onwards in subjects such as physics, biology and chemistry, followed by others over the coming years.

Minister for Education Norma Foley said the changes, aimed at reducing pressure facing students in the written exams at the end of sixth year, are due to be introduced to schools from September 2025.

However, delegates at the annual conference of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI), passed a motion urgently seeking flexibility in the percentage of marks allocated to these projects in light of developments in AI.


Adrienne Healy, a teacher in the union’s Dublin northwest branch, said: “With the advent of AI, it’s a simple matter of putting in the title of the project and in two minutes a project is generated” which could get most of the marks attributed, and that’s not fair.”

John Conneely, chair of the union’s Clare branch, said the reforms were “a political decision” by the Minister and “not an educational decision” and would undermine the assessment process and widen the social divide.

“Unequal access in schools to laboratories, to laboratory technicians, to high-tech equipment and digital devices will be exacerbated,” he said.

ASTI president Geraldine O’Brien said it would require “massive levels” of investment to bring laboratories up to the required standard across all schools to ensure equity for all young people.

In response, Ms Foley said “change was difficult” and that the reforms had flowed from a desire among students, in particular, to ensure the assessment load is spread out and that results do not come down to a single day’s exam performance in June.

The Minister also highlighted plans to address cyberbullying and cruelty on social media, which she said was harming students, teachers and broader society.

She said a new online safety code for social-media firms means they risk facing fines of up to €20 million unless they act.

“The era of big tech companies policing themselves is over,” she said, to applause from delegates.

The ASTI conference in Wexford also heard calls to address a “chronic teacher shortage” by attracting back Irish teachers in Dubai and elsewhere abroad.

Currently, second-level teachers who work in private schools in non-EU countries must start on the lowest pay scale when they recommence their careers in Ireland.

Ms O’Brien told delegates such teachers need to be awarded full incremental credit for their work abroad if they are to return to the teaching profession in Ireland.

“They literally cannot afford to live here when they are put back to the point on the salary scale they were appointed to years ago,” she said.

She said it was unfair that primary teachers in places such as Dubai get recognition for their service abroad, unlike their second-level colleagues.

“These teachers must also have access to full-time permanent positions, rather than facing the prospect of returning to part-time and/or short-term teaching jobs,” she said.

However, Ms Foley said she was hesitant to make it too attractive for second-level teachers to work abroad.

She said education authorities needed to walk a “fine line” between recognising teachers’ service abroad and “being fair” to teachers at home.

The ASTI conference also heard calls for other measures to make the profession more attractive, such as shortening the 25-point pay scale and reducing the length of the two-year postgraduate qualification.

Ms Foley said that while it takes time to achieve such a qualification, she believed it was the adequate length and that it helped ensure graduates were suitably qualified for the challenges of today.

In other issues debated at the ASTI conference, delegates backed calls for oral exams at Easter to be moved outside the holiday period.

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