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The Junior Certificate (Irish: Teastas Sóisearach) is an educational qualification awarded in Ireland by the Department of Education and Skills to students who have successfully completed the junior cycle of secondary education, and achieved a minimum standard in their Junior Certification examinations. These exams, like those for the Leaving Certificate, are supervised by the State Examinations Commission. A "recognised pupil" who commences the Junior Cycle must reach at least 12 years of age on 1 January 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 13 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 to reach that standard.
The objective 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.
- 1 History
- 2 The Junior Cycle
- 3 The examination
- 4 After the exam
- 5 Discontinuation
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External Links
The Junior Certificate officially replaced the Day Vocational (Group) Certificate ("Day Cert" or "Group Cert") and the Intermediate Certificate ("Inter Cert") when the first Junior Cert examinations were held. 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, the Department of Education and Science began to replace many subject curricula, particularly those that were dated, such as History and Geography. Civic, Social, and Political Education was introduced as a subject and made mandatory when Religious Education was also brought in. Religion was phased in with just a few schools adopting it in its first year, but now nearly all do the exam for Junior Cert, whilst CSPE was implemented nationwide. 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 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.
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 lack of students taking honours Maths has been a consistent issue throughout the history of the Junior Certificate. However, in recent years the trend of taking honours Maths has increased positively.
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 Certificate 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. Most schools do not offer all the optional subjects, but must offer all the mandatory and certain optional subjects.
- Irish† (Higher, Ordinary and Foundation)
- English (Higher, Ordinary and Foundation)
- Mathematics (Higher, Ordinary and Foundation)
- CSPE (Common level)
†An exemption from taking Irish may be awarded in some cases, for students with a specific learning difficulty and who moved to Ireland after the age 12.
All optional subjects are offered at Ordinary and Higher Level.
Arts and Humanities
- Ancient Greek‡
- Art, Craft & Design
- Classical Studies‡
- Music (Listening, Composing & General Study)
- Religious education (Some schools do Religious Education without examining it)
- Business studies
‡Classical Studies can not be taken by a student who is also taking Greek or Latin.
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 10 minutes of the examination.
The Irish Times published an article where teachers expressed their concern that some syllabi for certain subjects (e.g. Business Studies) were not "up-to-date" with current events and would therefore not encourage students enough to think independently and apply theory to real-world scenarios.
At the Junior Certificate, students can take an examination subject at one of four levels. These are:
- Higher Level (Irish: Ardleibhéal; sometimes called "Honours") – available in all subjects except CSPE.
- Ordinary Level (Irish: Gnáthleibhéal; sometimes called "Pass") – an easier course than Higher Level; available in all subjects except CSPE.
- Foundation Level (Irish: Bonnleibhéal) – an easier course than Ordinary Level; available only in English, Irish and Mathematics.
- Common Level (Irish: Leibhéal Comónta) – available only in CSPE.
The level taken at Junior Certificate has 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 could not take a Higher level in the corresponding Leaving Certificate subject, later.
A mark below 10% receives no grade. Above this, there are six ranges of 15%, from F up to A. Grades A, B, C and D are passing grades, E and F are failing grades; therefore, the pass mark for the Junior Cert is 40%.
In the Junior Certificate candidates have the option of answering either in Irish(only if they have been in the Irish stream) or in English, except in the case of the subjects Irish and English and questions in other language subjects. Certain subjects and components are not available for bonus marks, marks awarded also vary depending on the written nature of the subject.
Students who face disadvantages (e.g. suffer spelling problems caused by dyslexia,dyspraxia,dysgraphia or other disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder or ADHD) can not be penalised for bad spellings in exams such as English and Irish. These candidates will then be marked easier on all topics (e.g. if a student has a spelling problem in English he/she will be marked out of 50 for their mechanics).
After the exam
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.
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 (currently the fee is €32 per exam) 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 September of one year the refund was issued as late as March in the following year.
Although school attendance in Ireland is very high, some students drop out of the education system after completion of the Junior Certificate. Those who stay in the education system sit the Leaving Certificate – the requirement for college entry in Ireland. A new type of Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Applied has been designed to discourage people from dropping out. This is all practical work and students may work after school or do an apprenticeship, respectively.
The vast majority of students continue from lower level to senior level, with only 12.3% leaving after the Junior Certificate. This is lower than the EU average of 15.2%.
Transition Year (TY) (Irish: Idirbhlian) is an optional one-year programme that can be taken in the year after the Junior Certificate in Ireland and is intended to make the senior cycle a three-year programme encompassing both Transition Year and Leaving Certificate. The idea of such a year is strange in other countries, as they don't have the same year. Transition Year was created as a result of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress which called for a six-year cycle of post-primary education.
The Irish Government considered for a short period of time to completely scrap all Junior Cert examinations permanently. The move was met by criticism and outrage from the Teachers' Union (ASTI), but the Government said that scrapping the annual examinations and replacing them with continual assessment would save the country €30 million.
However, later on, the government agreed to scrap the Junior Certificate and instead, introduce a brand new syllabus for students starting First Year of secondary school, with only 60% of the test going for a written exam. The other 40% would be based on continuous assessment over two years. Students may also be able to pick up marks in extra-curricular activities such as debating or drama.
Pilots of the new system have been underway for three years, with the principal of St Joseph’s College, Lucan, in particular noting that the "engagement in learning" proved to be a panacea for the school's discipline problems. 
It is planned that schools will start the new course in as soon as the Junior Certificate Examinations are abolished with the aim of a soft transition.
The Department of Education and Skills announced that the new name for the Junior Certificate will be called the "Junior Cycle Student Award".
- Definitions, Rules and Programme for Secondary Education, Department of Education, Ireland, 2004
- The Junior Certificate Examination, Rules and Programme for Secondary Schools, Department of Education, Ireland, 2004
- Circular M16/89, Department of Education, Ireland, 1989
- Rule 31(1), Rules and Programme for Secondary Schools, Department of Education and Science, Ireland, 2004.
- Monday 17 May 2004, Student's exams go as sound as a bell, Irish Independent
- Rule 29, Rules and Programme for Secondary Schools, Department of Education and Science, Ireland, 2004
- Measuring Ireland's Progress – 2007
- Circular M31/93, Department of Education, Ireland, 1993
- Programme for Economic and Social Progress, Government of Ireland, Dublin, 1991
- Irish Times 24th Novemember
- Junior Cert gets new name under reform plans - RTÉ News