Teachers of Irish have reacted with consternation to sample Junior Certificate exam papers that were published by the State Examinations Commission yesterday evening.

On a Facebook page for teachers of the subject a large number of contributors have expressed concern at what students will be required to do in the new two-hour exam.

They say that students will be placed under too much pressure.

New Junior Cycle specifications for the subject have been introduced in schools, and students are due to be examined in them next June for the first time.

The old Irish curriculum has been replaced by two new programmes; Teanga 1, for students attending Gaelcholáistí and Gaeltacht schools, and Teanga 2, for students attending the majority of schools where English is the dominant language.

Most of the criticism is focused on the Higher Level sample paper for T2 students.

More than 350 people have commented on the matter in a closed Facebook page for Irish teachers called  'Muinteoirí Gaeilge ag roinnt achmhainní, cabhrach, agus smaointe'.

They have complained that the questions are too difficult for students and that the time allocated is not enough.

Some express concern that the paper will discourage students and will have a detrimental effect on numbers opting for the Higher Level paper. They express concern that students will be unable to tackle the paper.

"We will lose them immediately to lower level", writes one teacher. Another describes the sample papers as "a missed opportunity".

Teachers have complained that the demands being made of students in Irish are far beyond what is expected of them in other modern languages.

"How is it fair that in Irish a student is expected to rewrite the ending of a novel but in French only have to describe their family and house? Are you actually trying to kill Irish completely?" writes one contributor.

"Táimid an-bhuartha faoi easpa chúmais na ndaltaí dul in ngleic leis an bpáipéar seo," writes another.

"Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a ghabháil leis an Rionn Oiceachais  táid tar eis ár dteanga dhuchais a mharú," writes another.

The teachers complain that too much emphasis has been placed on literature. Questions on literature account for 40% of marks.

They have also complained about the loss of any oral component in the State exam.

On this last point the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment in a statement has pointed out that all students will undertake an oral examination separately, as part of a Classroom-Based Assessment.

CBAs are assessments carried out by teachers over the course of the Junior Cycle programme. They are not marked by the State Examinations Commission.

The NCCA says that before the introduction of the new curriculum less than 40% of students undertook what was then an optional oral examination in the subject.

However, the State Examinations Commission, which produced the sample papers, said it was satisfied that the structure and content of the Junior Cycle Gaeilge sample papers were "in full alignment with the thrust of Junior Cycle Reform".

The SEC said it was "confident that the published sample papers issued will assist students, teachers and the public, and in particular those presenting for the first 'live' examinations in Junior Cycle Gaeilge in 2020".

It said it was satisfied that they were "in full accordance with the learning outcomes and assessment objectives set out in the subject specifications".

The commission said it produced sample papers in consultation with the Department of Education and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment "as a guide to students, teachers and the public as to the structure and format of the new examination".

It said they were previewed by subject experts in relation to the appropriateness of their content, including the demand they presented in terms of the time it would take to complete them.

What's in the paper?

If the sample T2 Higher Level paper is anything to go by then students next June will certainly have a busy two hours. This exam is geared towards students who are attending English language schools.

The paper begins with a listening comprehension with four questions to answer. Students then have a reading exercise, compositions to write, and are tested on the literature they will have studied.

They must attempt every question.

The reading comprehension consists of a text with five questions to be answered.

Students are then asked two questions related to one of the novels they will have studied.

One of these questions goes as follow: "RTÉ is going to make a film of one of the novels you have studies but it is not satisfied with the ending. Write a different ending for the novel to make it suitable for a film."

After another short comprehension test, students are then quizzed on their selected poem.

This is followed by a picture comprehension section, and then a question on their chosen play.  

Finally students are given a choice of three jobs in TG4 - a job in the newsroom, in TV Sport and as a weather forecaster. They are asked to compose a job advertisement for one of these jobs.

All this, in two hours. 

The sample paper is available to view online here - Give it a go, but be sure to stick to the two hours.

Additional reporting Irene Ní Nualláin