Investigation into the Predictability of the Irish Leaving Certificate Examinations

Funder: State Examinations Commission, Ireland (£90,570); Principal Investigator: Professor Jo-Anne Baird; Collaborators: Professor Jannette Elwood (Queen’s University, Belfast), Dr Therese Hopfenbeck (OUCEA), Dr Daniel Caro (OUCEA), Dr Ayesha Ahmed (CamExam), with Ana-Maria Aricescu, Rhian Barrance, Roy Bowden, Quintin Brewer, Carol Brown, Daniel Cowling, Roger Firth, Jacqueline Gray, Steve Harrison, John Hoyes, Mary Jay, Malcolm Johnson, Jane McNicholl, Robert Miller, Aisling O’Boyle, Christine Paget, Jeanne Ryan, John Smith, Stephen Turner, Natalie Usher and Eileen Velarde; Advisory Group: Professor Richard Daugherty (Honorary Research Fellow, University of Oxford), Dr Anne Looney (NCCA), Hugh McManus (SEC), Dr Michelle Meadows (Assessment and Qualifications Alliance), Professor Roger Murphy (Honorary Research Fellow, University of Oxford), Professor Paul Newton (Institute of Education, University of London), Brid Uí Riordáin (SEC), Professor Gordon Stobart (Honorary Research Fellow, University of Oxford; Emeritus Professor, Institute of Education, University of London).

Many nations have concerns about whether their children are learning the right things, in the right way to compete in the knowledge economy of the future. These concerns arise in conceptually distinct guises which are often related in public narratives: concerns about standards, the content of the curriculum, the thinking skills being developed in the education system, preparation for work or higher education or the predictability of the examinations. It was the latter public narrative that was the focus of this research, although the underlying concerns related also to whether the Irish school examinations provoked rote learning that did not prepare students well for the future.

OUCEA was commissioned by the State Examinations Commission in Ireland to investigate the predictability of Irish Leaving Certificate examinations. Three studies were conducted to investigate the issues: an expert review of examinations materials in five subjects, an analysis relating students’ examination grades with their views on predictability of three examination subjects and interviews with students and teachers.

Despite the concerns in the media, we did not find that the examinations were predictable in general. We developed a scale for the evaluation of students’ perceptions of predictability, which proved to be invariant over three subject areas. We have presented some of the findings at seminars and conferences this year and are now preparing publications.

The OUCEA report, Predictability in the Irish Leaving Certificate, was published by the SEC in May 2015. The overall report is available on the SEC website, along with four working papers

This research informed the Irish government’s wider consultation on transition reforms, and the Minister for Education and Skills launched a report in April 2015 on the transition reform process.

Media coverage

Irish Times article, Leaving Certificate old fashioned, claims report, 2 May 2015 article, The Leaving Cert is not as predictable as people think…, 2 May 2015

State Examinations Commission press release, Publication of Report on Predictability in the Leaving Certificate, 2 May 2015

Department of Education and Skills, Ireland press release, Minister for Education and Skills launches Radical Reform of Leaving Certificate Grades and CAO Points System, 29 April 2015 article, New LC grade system will spark rounded learning – Govt, 29 April 2015