IASTA ‘not consulted’ on new agricultural science project guidelines

The Irish Agricultural Science Teachers’ Association (IASTA) has said it was “not consulted” before the revised guidelines for the agricultural science curriculum were published.

This is despite a recent statement from the IASTA stating that it was in contact with the State Examinations Commission (SEC) regarding its “worries and concerns” that have been expressed by agricultural science teachers in Ireland.

The SEC has published revised guidelines for the completion of the Individual Investigative Study (IIS), which is part of the Leaving Certificate agricultural science curriculum. The revisions will effect this year’s cohort of sixth year students, due to complete their Leaving Cert in 2021.

According to the IASTA, the revised guidelines include a series of concessions and adjustments to how the IIS can be carried out in class, including: the ability to work in groups to collect data; and the use of secondary data to validate results.

In a statement on the matter, the IASTA said it was “not consulted nor given prior knowledge of the new arrangements before the guidelines were published”.

The Individual Investigative Study Coursework Brief 2021, when originally issued, directed candidates to investigate a research question which they must link to their chosen enterprise; and to use the theme of “Improving Sustainability in Irish Agriculture”.

The issued brief allows candidates to choose their own preferred enterprise on which to base their IIS. Candidates also have flexibility to carry out the investigative work for their IIS in a range of locations including onsite in their chosen enterprise, in the school laboratory and in a field site.

In light of the “current exceptional circumstances due to Covid-19”, a number of changes have been made to the brief, allowing for group work where possible, the use of secondary data, and where it is not possible for a candidate to access a specific enterprise on which to base their project, candidates may base their study on a broader enterprise.

IIS ‘major stumbling block’

Previously, the IASTA outlined a number of concerns it had with the curriculum, which the IIS described as the “major stumbling block”.

The way things stood before the revisions were made to the brief, the IASTA said it felt that the project “cannot be completed”.

“Firstly, the IIS brief was late in being released, putting both teachers and students on the back foot,” the statement read.

“The brief was promised in September 2019 and did not arrive until late December 2019.

“The IIS is to be completed over a two-year period; the training was also slow to come; Covid-19 then brought training to a halt.

Covid-19 has resulted in many students not being able to collect data for their IIS due to the lockdown and lack of access to farms, laboratories and school resources.

“Other subjects have received many changes to their curriculum. We also feel that the mandatory experiments should be removed due to challenges of using a laboratory in this time.”

The IASTA also said that both teachers and students have lost, “on average, 15% of the teaching year due to Covid-19″.