Irish 15-year-olds could be awarded marks for involvement in a school musical or engaging with local community organisations, according to radical proposals for a new qualification to replace the Junior Certificate.

The plans, approved by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and by teacher trade unions, are now being considered by Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn and Department of Education officials.

The new programme would be called the National Certificate.

OECD figures published last year saw a dramatic decline in the literacy and numeracy levels of Irish 15-year-olds.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment warns that unless steps are taken, this slide will continue.

It says the exam focus of the current junior cycle is stifling student engagement and learning.

For the new qualification, students would take between six to eight subjects with assessment by project work and examination on a 40:60 ratio.

Marks could also be awarded for "Short Courses", which could be based around things such as work on a school musical, or in projects devised with outside groups, such as community organisations.

The NCCA, which includes trade union representatives, signed off on the new framework last week.

If approved by Minister Quinn, this radical new plan could be introduced in schools by 2014.

Second-level teacher's union the ASTI has said it is absolutely convinced that funding will not be made available to properly fund radical reforms proposed for Junior Cycle education.

The union's general secretary Pat King has told RTÉ that while teachers wanted to see reform, recent cuts and the general underfunding of education had convinced his members that financial support would not be in place.

The ASTI says this transformation cannot come about with adequate funding.