Teachers write to minister about ‘fundamental problems’ with ag science curriculum

The Irish Agricultural Science Teachers’ Association (IASTA) has written to Minister for Education Norma Foley expressing concerns over the Leaving Certificate agricultural science assessment.

These concerns relate to the new Leaving Cert specification for the course, which was introduced in September 2019 and is due to be examined next June (2021) for the first time.

While the IASTA recognises that the new specification was “very much needed and welcomed by teachers”, it wishes to bring attention to some “fundamental problems that exist with the specification and with its implementation in the classroom”.

The letter to the minister and other education stakeholders in the State Examinations Commission and National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) says:

“There was clearly a need for an updated specification and we welcome the greater focus on scientific practices and, for the first time, the inclusion of 20 mandatory student investigations in the specification.

“These mandatory student investigations will ensure that all students will develop a common set of fundamental laboratory practical skills. In addition, there is a deeper emphasis on technology, genetics and genomics along with sustainability and safe working practices. All of these are very welcome.

“However, we wish to bring to your attention some fundamental problems that exist with the specification and with its implementation in the classroom.

Among these problems are the specification design and problems in the way the learning outcomes are written.

“From the outset, it was clear to the IASTA that the draft specification was a vague document. It is written using the same template as was used in writing the Junior Cycle science specification, i.e. simply a list of learning outcomes with no depth of treatment provided or information about assessment which would enable teachers to interpret and implement these learning outcomes in a consistent way in the classroom.”

‘With only months to go, teacher guidelines nor exam papers available’

The IASTA says that teachers were promised by the NCCA that a ‘teacher guidelines’ document would be provided, to accompany the new agricultural science specifications.

This document would “guide and support the teachers in interpreting the depth of treatment of each learning outcome”.

The letter continues:

“We were told by the NCCA representative not to be concerned about the vagueness on the learning outcomes as everything would be made clear in the teacher guidelines document.

However, although we are now well into the second year of teaching the new programme, with only months to go before the Leaving Certificate, neither teacher guidelines nor sample examination papers have been made available.

“This is a matter of considerable concern to our students, their parents and our teachers.

“Furthermore, the NCCA Agricultural Science in Practice Group has not yet been convened.

“On behalf of IASTA, we are requesting that the teacher guidelines document and the sample examination papers be made available immediately as a matter of urgency.”

IASTA ‘not consulted’ before revised guidelines published

IASTA has previously expressed further concerns over the agricultural science curriculum.

AgriLand reported in September, the IASTA said it was “not consulted” before the revised guidelines for the agricultural science curriculum were published.

The SEC has published revised guidelines for the completion of the Individual Investigative Study (IIS), which is part of the Leaving Cert agricultural science curriculum. The revisions will affect 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”.