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 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. 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, but now nearly all do the exam for Junior Cert, 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 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 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.
Each subject is examined at one of three levels, Higher Level (informally Honours), Ordinary Level (informally Pass), or Foundation Level. Foundation Level may only be taken in two subjects: Irish and Mathematics. Although English may be taken at Foundation Level for the Junior Cert, it is not offered at this level for the Leaving Cert. All other subjects may be taken at either Ordinary or Higher Level. In general, a Higher Level grade is worth 40 points more than the equivalent Ordinary Level grade (e.g. a Higher C1 is 70 points, while an Ordinary C1 is 30). No points are awarded for a grade below D3 (40%). However, a D3 may be awarded with a tolerance of up to 2%; a practice in place since the introduction of the grading system in 1969.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.Ancient Greek‡
Art, Craft & Design
Music (Listening, Composing & General Study)
Religious education (Some schools do Religious Education without examining it)
‡Classical Studies can not be taken by a student who is also taking Greek or Latin.French
Environmental and Social Studies
Materials Technology (Wood)
Metalwork (Materials & Technology)
Typewriting (2016 is the final year of examination, per DoE Circular 0061/2014 )
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. They usually last 2½weeks. 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 2hrs 30mins 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. Paper 2 in English is 2hrs 30mins, Paper 2 in Irish is 1hr 30mins, Paper 2 in Maths is 2hrs at Ordinary level and 2½hrs at ordinary and Business Paper 2 is 2hrs. Candidates are permitted to leave the exam hall after 30 minutes have passed, up until the last 15 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).
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).
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 2010 the fee was set at €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.
In late 2009 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 continuous 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 in English for students starting First Year of secondary school in September 2014, with only 60% of the test going for a written exam. The other 40% would be based on continuous assessment over two years. The first assessment takes place at the end of 2nd Year which is an Oral exam in English. Students will have 3weeks to choose a topic and have to present it. The second assessment takes place at Christmas of 3rd Year. It is Collection of Texts project which a student will choose 4 written pieces throughout the 3 years from 4 different genres and will re-draft them. These are then sent off to be corrected by the State Examination commission. The final written exam at higher and ordinary levels will only consist of a 2hr paper. 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 was planned that schools would start the new course September 2014, as soon as the Junior Certificate Examinations were abolished with the aim of a soft transition. Irish, Science and Business were reformed in 2016. History and Geography will be reformed in 2019. It is expected that the full Junior Cert will be revised into the Junior Cycle Student Award by 2022.
On 15 January 2014, the Department of Education and Skills announced that the new name for the Junior Certificate will be called the "Junior Cycle Student Award".