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Junior Cycle


How can schools and teachers provide learning experiences to provide for the statements of learning?

The Framework for Junior Cycle sets out 24 statements of learning for junior cycle education. They describe what junior cycle students should know, understand, value and be able to do having fully engaged with the junior cycle programme in their school. The statements can be seen as a support that the school uses to plan its junior cycle programme.

Alongside the 24 statements there are descriptions of what learning related to each statement involves. This description is written from the perspective of the student. There are also suggestions provided on the subjects, short courses and other learning experiences that are linked to the particular statement of learning. All of these help the school to be clear about the learning involved.

The statements of learning can also play a role in self-evaluation by students who could be asked to speak about their progress in relation to the descriptions of the statements of learning. The outcomes of this self-evaluation by students could also assist schools in reviewing how well their junior cycle programme is addressing the statements of learning.

How many subjects and short courses can be included in the Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement?

Most students will study between eight and ten subjects or their equivalent as part of their junior cycle programme. It’s important to stress that this limit applies only to the number of subjects and short courses that can appear on the Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement (JCPA). Schools can offer a greater number of subjects, short courses, and other educational experiences as part of the curriculum and will report to parents on student achievement in these.
A maximum of four short courses (each one equivalent to half a subject) can be included, but there is no compulsory requirement that schools include short courses on the JCPA. 
The table below indicates the possibile combinations of subjects and short courses that schools might offer, but other configurations are possible too.   

Eight subjects or equivalent Eight subjects or Seven subjects + 2 short courses or 6 subjects + 4 short courses
Nine subjects or equivalent Nine subjects or Eight subjects + 2 short courses or 7 subjects + 4 short courses
Ten subjects or equivalent Ten subjects or Nine subjects + 2 short courses or 8 subjects + 4 short courses


How will the Framework for Junior Cycle support equality and inclusion?

The Framework for Junior Cycle 2015 is designed to give schools increased levels of flexibility, choice and autonomy in the programmes that they offer; it presents a curriculum designed for all students, not for some. The same Framework applies to all. The same Statements of Learning are for all. The new assessment and reporting arrangements apply equally to all students. The Framework allows a school to customise and personalise programmes to suit particular students, student groups or student cohorts.

The Framework can address inequality through the following means:

  • It recognises the learning achievements of all junior cycle learners
  • It develops the specifications for all subjects and short courses centrally so that all students work towards the same learning outcomes
  • The new specifications set out expectations for learners and examples of student work that show what achievement of those expectations looks like, so that students, parents and teachers can understand the standard being worked towards
  • Specifications are for the most part set and assessed at a common level encouraging the formation of mixed-ability classes
  • Assessment methods are more varied and less time-critical to suit the full range and types of learners
  • It offers the award of the Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement (JCPA) to all students. 
In the vast majority of cases, the achievements reported will relate to subjects and short courses that are broadly aligned with Level 3 of the NFQ. In a small number of cases where students cannot access some or all of the subjects and short courses at Level 3 they will have followed Level 2 Learning Programmes (L2LPs), which are broadly aligned with Level 2 of the NFQ. 
There are also Level 1 Learning Programmes (L1LPs) in development, aligned with Level 1 of the NFQ. This means that a small minority of students whose general learning disabilities fall in the lower moderate to severe and profound ranges who undertake these L1LPs will have their achievements in L1LPs recognised on the JCPA also.

What are short courses and what are they like?

Short courses are a new curriculum component in the junior cycle. They are designed for approximately 100 hours of student engagement and specified at a common level. The inclusion of short courses in a junior cycle programme will allow schools to broaden the learning experiences for students, address their interests and encompass areas of learning not covered by the combination of curricular subjects available in the school.
Eight short courses that are broadly aligned with Level 3 of the NFQ, have been developed by NCCA as outlined below:
  • Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE)
  • Physical Education (PE)
  • Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE)
  • Chinese Language and Culture
  • Artistic Performance
  • Digital Media Literacy
  • Coding
  • Philosophy
Two short courses that are broadly aligned with Level 2 of the NFQ have been developed by NCCA as outlined below:
  • CSI: Exploring Forensic Science
  • A Personal Project: Caring For Animals 
These short courses are all available online at
Schools may opt to include short courses developed by the NCCA, or alternatively, short courses that have been developed either by the school or another organisation in accordance with a template and guidelines set out by NCCA.


What are the compulsory subjects in the new Junior Cycle?

Students will study English, Irish and Mathematics, along with a number of other subjects in their junior cycle programme. The range of subjects to be offered in the junior cycle programme in individual schools will vary in accordance with the teaching resources in the school and the needs and interests of the students. Schools will have the flexibility and discretion to decide what combination of subjects, short courses or other learning experiences will be provided in their three-year junior cycle programme.
In Junior Cycle, schools have greater flexibility to design programmes that are suited to the needs of their junior cycle students and to the particular context of the school. Each school’s programme:  
  • will be guided by the twenty-four statements of learning, eight principles and eight key skills that are at the core of the new Junior Cycle 
  • will encompass learning in subjects or a combination of subjects and short courses 
  • will include an area of learning entitled Wellbeing 
  • will provide a range of other learning experiences may include priority learning units (PLUs) that will help to provide a junior cycle programme that is appropriate to the needs of particular students with significant special educational needs.


What is the Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement (JCPA)?

The reporting process at junior cycle will culminate in the award of the Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement (JCPA) to students. During the years when students are studying subjects for which new specifications have been provided alongside existing Junior Certificate subjects, the results of the latter will be included in the JCPA. The JCPA will be awarded for the first time in autumn 2017. The JCPA will reward achievement across all areas of learning as is applicable to the student. This includes subjects, short courses, wellbeing, priority learning units and other areas of learning.

The JCPA will draw upon and report on achievement across all elements of assessment including ongoing, formative assessment; Classroom Based Assessments; and SEC results from state certified examinations and where applicable the Assessment Tasks. 

In the vast majority of cases, the JCPA will report on learning achievements that are broadly aligned with level 3 of the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ). In the small number of cases, where students have followed Level 2 Learning Programmes, the priority learning units and the short courses aligned with level 2 of the NFQ.  

What is the minimum change a school will have had to make in 2014? What is the maximum?

The Framework for Junior Cycle was introduced in 2015. All schools have introduced a new subject specification for Junior Cycle English, and new specifications for Business and Science will be introduced in September 2016. The key skills of junior cycle are embedded in the specifications and in the assessment. Schools will now decide whether to offer some NCCA short courses, or some short courses of their own design, as part of their junior cycle programme. They will ensure that the school’s junior cycle programme as a whole meets the statements of learning set out in the Framework. Finally, that programme will also need to take account of the limit placed on the number of subjects and short courses that students can include for certification at the end of third year. This represents the minimum change involved for schools.

As the Framework is designed to create the conditions where schools, in planning and organising their junior cycles, have greater autonomy and more flexibility than they do at present, it makes little sense to think in terms of ‘maximum change’. The school’s junior cycle programme must be consistent with the statements of learning and it must comply with the requirements surrounding qualifications, but, otherwise, the school will have the freedom to employ subjects, short courses, and other learning experiences in ways that meet the needs of students and the resources of the school across the three years of junior cycle. Having said this, the idea in introducing junior cycle change over a broad timescale is that it allows schools to take a measured and incremental approach to changing their junior cycle programme over a number of years.

What is the rationale for Junior Cycle reform?

The vision encompassed within the Framework for Junior Cycle 2015, was informed by engagement with educational partners and through national and international research. It also builds on effective practices in curriculum and assessment that are implemented by teachers in schools throughout the country.  The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) research on the experience of students in junior cycle drew attention to the problem of disengagement of students in junior cycle, that many students disconnect from schooling and from learning, and fail to develop the skills they later need to learn, to live and to work.
National consultations also highlighted concerns for the wellbeing of young people as they made the journey from adulthood through a complex and challenging environment. The Framework for Junior Cycle 2015 incorporates a shared understanding of how teaching, learning and assessment practices should evelove to support the delivery of a quality, inclusive and relevant education that will meet the needs of all junior ctycle studdents, both now and in the future. 

What time should be allocated to English, Gaeilge and Mathematics on the school timetable?

The Literacy and Numeracy Strategy requires that schools allocate 330 hours to first language subjects, English in English-medium schools, Gaeilge in Irish-medium schools, and to Mathematics.  In order to promote high standards of literacy and numeracy it is seen as desirable that students would have classes in these subjects frequently. The Junior Certificate syllabuses for these subjects were designed to be taught in approximately 240 hours. The new Junior Cycle specifications in these subjects will, likewise, be designed to be taught in 240 hours.
Schools currently allocate the extra hours in a variety of ways to drive literacy and numeracy strategies and will continue to do so in the new junior cycle. How they choose to do this is a matter for the school. Some allocate extra subject classes. Some use the time for specific initiatives such as reading schemes, programmes and strategies. Others see cross-curricular initiatives where students develop their language and engagement with numeracy through a range of subjects and learning activities. The new junior cycle promotes flexibility and choice for the school in how it deploys its resources and its approach to allocating the time required for literacy and numeracy is a good example of this.

What will be different for schools?

For the first time schools have really significant levels of flexibility to shape what is included in their students’ junior cycle programme. With that flexibility comes the responsibility to ensure that those programmes meet the requirements of the 24 statements of learning and give students opportunities to develop the key skills at the heart of the Framework for  Junior Cycle.

For schools, the main differences in the new junior cycle are
  • The junior cycle is now be based on a Framework rather than a set of specific rules – there is greater flexibility and autonomy for schools in planning and developing junior cycle, greater scope for schools to be innovative in this context.
  • There is improved clarity, through the Statements of Learning and new outcomes-based curriculum specifications, around learning in junior cycle.
  • There is a genuine opportunity to focus on the junior cycle programme as well as the exam.
  • The school curriculum can become more varied and locally relevant. Through short course development, schools can become involved in local curriculum development that complements national curriculum specifications.
  • Schools will be more directly involved in the area of assessment, bringing assessment closer to learning and building its role in the professional life of the school.
  • Improved feedback, reporting and modern qualifications will be a feature of the new junior cycle.

What will be different for students?

The focus on learning and on the role of the learner is much increased, as is the attention paid to their progress in learning, instead of 'how much of the book they have covered'. The Key Skills have been designed to help the students to become better learners, and better citizens:
  • Managing information and thinking
  • Working with others
  • Being creative
  • Being numerate 
  • Being literate 
  • Managing myself
  • Staying Well
  • Communicating
  • Being Creative
They will feature in the learning and students will be much clearer about what they are learning in junior cycle and how they are making progress. Assessment will no longer be constrained by the examination hall in the June of third year. Instead, students will have opportunities to shape that final result from the start of second year. They will get better feedback on their learning and face more challenging expectations of what they do in response.

They will have the opportunity, through short courses, to study in areas that are more directly related to their own interests, the capacities and strengths of their schools, and reflective of a wider range of school and community activity. Less pressured, more relevant learning like this is certain to lead to better learning and higher levels of achievement.

And of course in the new junior cycle, learning outcomes related to all curriculum components will promote the integrated development of literacy and numeracy skills so that students can progress with confidence to senior cycle education.

What will be different for teachers?

By far the biggest change for teachers will be in how they assess and provide feedback to their students as learning progresses across junior cycle. There will be a greater focus on progress and on next steps and on better reporting to parents on how their children are getting on as learners. Teachers (and parents and students) will have access to examples of student work that illustrate the standard of work expected at different stages across junior cycle. Teachers will also be assessing work as part of Classroom-Based Assessments that will be reported through the Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement (JCPA). 

What will subject specifications look like?

Existing junior cycle subjects will be reviewed and new specifications developed to reflect the Framework for Junior Cycle, 2015. The term ‘specification’ will replace what we previously called a ‘syllabus’ and will apply to both subjects and short courses.

The specifications will specify both curriculum and assessment and its sections will include:
  • Introduction to junior cycle
  • Aim
  • Rationale
  • Links with statements of learning and the 8 key skills
  • Course overview including the strands and elements of each subject and short course and the learning outcomes
  • Expectations for learners
  • Assessment and Reporting 

The new specifications will build on students’ learning in primary school and prepare them for learning in senior cycle. The specifications for all subjects and NCCA short courses will be available a year in advance of their introduction date in schools.

Apart from English, Irish and Mathematics, each subject will require a mimimum of 200 hours of timetabled student engagement that includes teaching, learning and assessment activity. English, Irish and Mathematics will each require a mimimum of 240 hours of timetabled student engagement. 

When will the revised subjects be available?

The specification for junior cycle English is the first revised subject to be introduced in September 2014. In September 2016, Business Studies and Science will be introduced to schools. This will be followed, in subsequent years, by the introduction of other subjects on a phased basis. The schedule for the phased introduction of subjects is available on Page 17 of the Framework for Junior Cycle, 2015.