A teacher trade union and one representing second-level students have together expressed "serious concerns" about plans to reform the Leaving Certificate cycle.

In a joint statement ahead of a conference on the topic this weekend, the Teachers Union of Ireland said it was their "strong position" that English and Irish Paper One examinations should not be held a year earlier, as is planned by the Department of Education.

The union says the move would be educationally unsound and place "significant additional pressure on students and teachers".

It says it would particularly disadvantage students who develop positive study habits at a later stage or the roughly 25% of students who either do not have access to, or who choose not to take up the option of Transition Year.

The Paper One examinations test students' written and comprehension abilities.

Announcing reform plans last March, Minister for Education Norma Foley said that as an "interim measure" students entering fifth year this coming September would sit Paper One in both Irish and English a year earlier at the end of Fifth Year.

The Department of Education has pointed out that assessment during the equivalent of fifth year is a feature of systems such as the French Baccalaureate where there are exams at the end of the equivalent of fifth and sixth year.

It says this spreading of assessment is intended to reduce pressures on students.

'We should think through all the implications'

However, the decision has proved controversial, even apparently within the Department of Education.

Just a few months before the Minister's announcement a senior official at the department had warned against such a move.

Speaking to school principals at a conference, Assistant General Secretary Dalton Tattan warned this a student assessed on a component at the end of fifth year could think "finished with that now, I don't need to know that ever again. I can close the book".

Mr Tattan asked: "Is that going to improve the experience for the senior cycle?

"It's not to say that we're against these things, but we should think through all the implications."

In its statement today, the TUI said that students take time to develop as writers in both languages and that a two-year cycle of learning is required to enable this.

It says a high stakes exam at the end of fifth year would also impact on a student’s preparation in other subjects, and would curtail extracurricular aspects of school life.

The ISSU said the proposed changes would not lead to better outcomes for students

TUI President Liz Farrell also said certification by the State had to be retained.

"TUI members are fundamentally opposed to assessing their own students for State certificate purposes and therefore external assessment and State certification - which retain significant public trust - are essential for all written examinations and all additional components of assessment."

Irish Second-level Students Union Uachtarán Caitlin Faye Maniti said "the ISSU has always advocated for Leaving Certificate reform but the proposed changes are neither an adequate nor comprehensive enough solution to tackle the problems surrounding the Leaving Certificate exams and we do not see this leading to better outcomes for students".

"Further to this, we have yet to see a procedure for any Leaving Certificate 2024 for students who wish to repeat and re-sit their Irish and English Paper One exams, along with a procedure for students that wish to drop from Higher to Ordinary level when they enter sixth year. With so many gaps in the plan, specifically relating to the cognitive development of boys opposed to girls at the end of sixth year and valid concerns from students regarding the above, we simply cannot support this plan."

Both bodies have called for more consultation and engagement with the Department of Education.