Junior Certificate

The Junior Certificate is an educational qualification awarded in Ireland by the Department of Education to students who have successfully completed the junior cycle of secondary education, and achieved a minimum standard in their Junior Cert. examinations. These exams, like those for the Leaving Certificate, are supervised by the State Examinations Commission.The "'Junior A "recognised pupil"Definitions, Rules and Programme for Secondary Education, Department of Education, Ireland, 2004] who commences the Junior Cycle must reach at least 12 years of age on January 1 of the school year of admission and must have completed primary education; the examination is normally taken after three years' study in a secondary school. Typically a student takes 9 to 12 subjects – including English, Irish and Mathematics – as part of the Junior Cycle. The examination does not reach the standards for college or university entrance; instead a school leaver in Ireland will typically take the Leaving Certificate Examination two or three years after completion of the Junior Certificate in order to reach that standard.

The objectiveThe Junior Certificate Examination, Rules and Programme for Secondary Schools, Department of Education, Ireland, 2004] of the Junior Cycle is::"...to provide a well-balanced, general education suitable for pupils who leave full-time education at the end of compulsory schooling or, alternatively, who wish to enter on more advanced courses of study."

History

The Junior Certificate officially replaced the "Day Vocational (Group) Certificate" ("Day Cert" or "Group Cert") and the "Intermediate Certificate" ("Inter Cert") in 1992 when the first Junior Cert examinations were held; instruction in the new course had commenced in September 1989.Circular M16/89, Department of Education, Ireland, 1989] The new, modern course was acclaimed as it was much more flexible than its predecessors. The Junior Certificate quickly became the minimum requirement for getting a job in Ireland.

Near the end of the decade, in 1999, the Department of Education and Science began to replace many subject curricula, particularly those that were dated, such as History and Geography. In 1999, Civic, Social, and Political Education was introduced as a subject, and made mandatory from 2000, when Religious Education was also brought in. Religion was phased in with just a few schools adopting it in its first year, whilst CSPE was implemented nationwide. In 2002 a new Science course was introduced. The new course emphasised greater class participation and introduced the awarding of a percentage of marks for class practicals throughout the three years. However, many teachers complained about a lack of information from the Department about this change. Sample papers were not released until early 2006, the year when the new exam would be sat for the first time. Also, some schools complained that they did not have the laboratory facilities to do the new course but were forced to teach it anyway.

In 2004, results were made available on the Internet for the first time, thus allowing students who, for instance, had moved school or left school to get their results without having to return to their old school.

The Junior Cycle

The Junior Cycle is the first three years of second-level education. In the final year of the course, teachers allocate a substantial amount of time for revision of key topics. Candidates also practice answering questions which appeared on previous examination papers. Courses are quite broad - for example the Business Studies course covers business organisation, marketing, economics, accounting and several other areas. The same is also true for the Science course, which covers basic physics, chemistry and biology. The Leaving Cert exam by comparison is much more specific.

A "recognised junior pupil" must undertake all the mandatory subjects and at least two of the optional subjects, except insofar as exemptions or exclusions apply. In certain types of schools, subjects in the optional grouping (or a selection from combinations of them) may in fact be mandatory, for instance History and Geography are mandatory in certain types of schools. [Rule 31(1), Rules and Programme for Secondary Schools, Department of Education and Science, Ireland, 2004.] Most schools do not offer all the optional subjects, but must offer all the mandatory and certain optional subjects.

Mandatory subjects

(Subject levels are in parentheses.)
*Irish† "(Higher, Ordinary and Foundation)"
*English "(Higher, Ordinary and Foundation)"
*Mathematics "(Higher, Ordinary and Foundation)"
*Civic, Social and Political Education Usually called CSPE"(Common)"
*Social, Personal and Health Education "(not examined)" Usually called SPHE
*Physical Education Usually called PE "(not normally examined)"

†Exemption from taking Irish is subject to Circular M10/94,Circular M10/94, Department of Education, Ireland, 1994] on the grounds of time spent abroad or learning disability.

Optional subjects

(Subject levels are in parentheses.)
*Ancient Greek‡ "(Higher and Ordinary)"
*Art, Craft & Design "(Higher and Ordinary)"
*Business Studies "(Higher and Ordinary)"
*Classical Studies‡ "(Higher and Ordinary)"
*Environmental and Social Studies "(Higher and Ordinary)"
*French "(Higher and Ordinary)"
*Geography "(Higher and Ordinary)"
*German "(Higher and Ordinary)"
*Hebrew Studies "(Higher and Ordinary)"
*History "(Higher and Ordinary)"
*Home Economics "(Higher and Ordinary)"
*Latin‡ "(Higher and Ordinary)"
*Materials Technology Wood "(Higher and Ordinary)"
*Metalwork "(Higher and Ordinary)"
*Music "(Higher and Ordinary)"
*Religious Education "(Higher and Ordinary)"
*Science "(Higher and Ordinary)"
*Technical Graphics "(Higher and Ordinary)"
*Technology "(Higher and Ordinary)"
*Typewriting "(Higher and Ordinary)"

‡Subject exclusions - candidates may not take any of following subject combinations::*Classical Studies and Latin:*Classical Studies and Ancient Greek

As of the 2006 (June) examination, Science (with Local Studies) is no longer an exam per se but is still available for schools who do not yet have the facilities for the new course; Local Studies and Applied Science offered 40% of your grade in Ordinary level or 25% in Higher level. The Science syllabus was revised and the choice for either the Local Studies or Applied Science exams was scrapped, being replaced with one common exam paper, 35% of your grade in Science now depends on your coursework recorded.

The examination

The final examination takes place after 3 years of the course, in early June. The exams always start with English, then the other main subjects and finish with the subjects that have the fewest candidates. The exams can take the form of written papers, aurals, orals, practicals and marks from course work assignments (such as in CSPE, where 60% of the exam rests on an "action project)". Exams are usually 2 to 3 hours long; most subjects are one paper only (i.e. they are taken in a single session), however 4 subjects have two papers at higher level - Irish, English, Mathematics and Business Studies. Candidates are permitted to leave the exam hall after 30 minutes have passed, up until the last 30 minutes of the examination.

Levels

In general, at the Junior Certificate, students can take an examination subject at one of three levels. These are:

*Higher (commonly called Honours) - taken by many students, particularly in optional subjects.
*Ordinary (commonly called Pass) - common in the core subjects of English, Irish and Mathematics - rarer in other subjects.
*Foundation - quite rare - only taken if a student is very weak in a particular subject (such as a non-native speaker taking Foundation English). Foundation is only available in the core subjects (English, Irish, Mathematics).

In CSPE, there are no separate levels, all students take the same ("Common") level.

The level taken at Junior Certificate has no bearing on the level taken in the Leaving Certificate; thus for instance a student could take an Ordinary level in the Junior Certificate and then take a Higher level in the corresponding Leaving Certificate subject, later.

Grading

The pass mark is set at 40%, and anything over 55% is nominally described as an 'honour'. Marking schemes are freely available to students before exams - however at Junior Certificate level, exam papers are not returned after the exam. If a candidate feels he/she has been unfairly marked, they can have the paper rechecked (i.e "appealed") for a fee of 30. To appeal, one must inform one's school's principal. The principal writes a letter to the State Examinations Commission with the candidate's exam number and the subject of the appeal along with the fee. The appeals always have to be in by a deadline (for the year 2005 the deadline for appeals was 30 September ). The appeal results are usually released by the second week of November.

Irish

In the Junior Certificate candidates have the option of answering either in Irish or in English, except in the case of the subjects Irish and English and questions in other language subjects. [Rule 29, Rules and Programme for Secondary Schools, Department of Education and Science, Ireland, 2004] Certain subjects and components are not available for bonus marks, marks awarded also vary depending on the written nature of the subject.

Exemptions

Students who face disadvantages (i.e. suffer spelling problems caused by dyslexia) can apply for an exemption from being penalised for bad spellings in exams such as English and Irish. These candidates will be marked harder on a separate topic. (e.g. if a student has a spelling exemption in English he/she will not be marked out of 5 for their mechanics - instead he/she will be marked out of a greater number in another area, for example out of 25 rather than 20 for content)

After the exam

Results

Results are released in mid-September. It is not possible to fail the Junior Cert overall: all students continue to their next year of education no matter what their results, but most schools will not permit a student to take a Leaving Cert subject at Higher Level if they did not receive at least a Higher Level "C" grade at Junior Cert. The Junior Certificate (and more so, the Leaving Certificate) results take centre place in the Irish media during the week surrounding their release. The newspapers publish various statistics about the exam and cover high achievers (some receive ten or more "A" grades). Schools generally give students (who have received their results) the day off and discos especially for the teenagers are organised in most cities and towns.

Appealing grades

If a student is unhappy with a grade they received on any of the exam results, they may appeal the decision made by the SEC. They need to pay a fee (in 2005 the fee was 30) and the principal of the school writes a letter of appeal application to the State Examinations Commission, stating the candidate's name, exam number and the exam they would like to appeal. There is a deadline to appeal, usually 14-21 days after the results are published, in which the student's application must be made. The appeal results are usually handed out mid-November. The grade that is received this time is final, and no more appeals can be made. If the candidate's grade did not change, no further action will be taken. However, if a change did occur, then the candidate will be refunded the appeal fee via a Cheque made out to the principal of the school. These refunds take time to be issued, but in an appeal made in 2005(September) the refund was issued as late as March 2006.

Drop-outs

Although school attendance in Ireland is very high, some students drop out of the education system after completion of the Junior Certificate. It is estimated that in parts of Dublin, the drop-out rate is as high as 25% - however the rate is much lower on a national basis. Those who stay in the education system sit the Leaving Certificate - the requirement for college entry in Ireland. There is a new type of Leaving Certificate called the Leaving Certificate Applied which has been designed to discourage people from dropping out. It is all practical work and you can work after school or do an apprenticeship.

Transition year

After the Junior Certificate students in many schools can take "Transition Year" also called "4th Year". It is not part of either the Junior or Leaving Certificate courses and offers students the chance to try new things. During Transition Year, many students participate in enterprise projects, travel to France, Spain, Italy or Germany to study French, Spanish, Italian or German, do First Aid courses, join volunteer groups or take classes in subjects such as Applied Mathematics. It is also an opportunity to take part in work experience with local employers, in order to educate about employment practices and to see what jobs the students are enjoying at present. It is seen as a form of a gap year, to allow students (particularly younger students) a chance to prepare for the Senior Cycle and to develop their weaker subjects.

See also

*Education in Ireland
*Leaving Certificate


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