Irish Leaving Certificate in Computer Science: Draft Specification

follow 3 pngAny regular readers of this blog know that Computer Science has been mooted to become a Leaving Certificate subject in Ireland for some time, with any details speculated upon and often vague, and/or changing. However, last week things moved one step closer towards a concrete reality with the unveiling of the draft specification for the Computer Science Leaving Certificate by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).

Computer Science is set to be added to the list of leaving certificate choices for fifth-year students from September 2018, with the first exams being held in 2020. The draft contains details on the syllabus and assessment, with 30% of the marks in the final exams going towards a computing project done during school, and the other 70% taking place in the traditional June assessment. However, for the first time, the two and a half hour June assessment will be computer-based instead of the traditional written paper or combination written/aural. The State Examinations Commission will set and grade the project as it does with other Leaving Certificate coursework assessments.

The NCCA has also announced a consultation period running through September before the final specification is agreed. This includes a Computers in Education Society of Ireland (CESI) consultation event on September 16.

Below I have extracted some of the salient parts of the draft specification to give readers a quick overview, along with some road-mapping for those unfamiliar with the Irish Leaving Certificate. Readers are directed to the full draft specification for details.


The draft specification sets out the objectives of Leaving Certificate Computer Science as enabling students to:

  • develop an understanding of how computing technology presents new ways to address problems, and to use computational thinking to analyse problems and to design, develop and evaluate solutions
  • read, write, test, and modify computer programs
  • develop an understanding of how computers work; the component parts of computer systems and how they interrelate, including software, data, hardware, communications, and users
  • appreciate the ethical and social implications relating to use of computing technology and information and identify the impact of technology on personal life and society
  • understand how information technology has changed over time and the effects these changes may have on education, the workforce, and society
  • evaluate the accuracy, relevance, appropriateness, comprehensiveness, and bias of online information sources
  • work independently and collaboratively, communicate effectively, and become responsible, competent, confident, reflective, and creative users of computing technology.


The specification sets out three strands: 1. Practices and Principles, 2. Cross-cutting Core Concepts and 3. Computer Science in Practice.

1. The overarching practices and principles of Computer Science are the behaviours and ways of thinking that computer scientists use.

2. The cross-cutting core concepts of Computer Science represent the major content areas in the field of Computer Science: abstraction, data, computer systems, algorithms and evaluation/testing. Students engage with the crosscutting concepts theoretically in this strand and apply them practically in Strand 3.

3. Computer Science in practice provides multiple opportunities for students to apply the practices and principles and the cross-cutting core concepts. To reflect the emphasis on project management in real-world Computer Science, students work in groups to carry out five projects over the duration of the course, each of which results in the creation of computational artefacts. Computational artefacts are defined as anything created by a human using a computer. An artefact can be, but is not limited to, a program, image, audio, video, presentation, or web page file.

Time Allocation

The curriculum is designed for 180 hours of class contact time. There is time for introductory classroom-based theory and revision, but most of the teaching and learning will take place in the practical application of the concepts through project work in Strand 3. Each project should take approximately six weeks to complete.


The Leaving Certificate in Ireland is differentiated by two levels, ordinary and higher. The Leaving Certificate specification for Computer Science sets out the following “differentiation through the learning outcomes of the specification”. I have underlined (ordinary) and set in bold (higher) the differences below.

Ordinary: Students engage with a broad range of knowledge, mainly concrete in nature, but with some elements of abstraction or theory. They will be expected to demonstrate and use a moderate range of practical and cognitive skills and tools and to plan and develop simple investigative strategies. They will be expected to select from a range of procedures, and apply known solutions to a variety of problems in both familiar and unfamiliar contexts. They will design and produce computational artefacts that serve a useful purpose.

Higher: Students engage with a broad range of knowledge, including theoretical concepts and abstract thinking, with significant depth in some areas. They will be expected to demonstrate and use a broad range of specialised skills and tools to evaluate and use information, to plan and develop investigative strategies, and to determine solutions to varied, unfamiliar problems. They will be expected to identify and apply skills and knowledge in a wide variety of both familiar and unfamiliar contexts. They will design and produce computational artefacts that serve a useful purpose.

In addition, there is differentiation in teaching and learning, and in assessment. See the draft specification, page 19 for details.

Topics and Learning Outcomes

The draft specification sets out a full set of topics and learning outcomes for each of the three strands above, for both ordinary and higher levels. These are too lengthy to go over here. Readers are directed to the draft specification, page 21.


There are two assessment components at each level, an end-of-course examination (70%) and coursework (30%). The end-of-course examination is broken down into: short answer questions (20%),  practical question (30%) and structured questions (20%). The coursework assessment consists of one computational artefact and report for the full 30%.

Assessment Programming Language

Leaving Certificate Computer Science does not require a specific language. However, for the initial years of the subject, Python and JavaScript will be the languages used in the end-of-course assessment; this will be reviewed on an ongoing basis. There is no restriction in choice of language used in the projects or in the coursework assessment.


You can get involved in the consultation in any of four ways:

  1. Email a submission to
  2. Request to participate in a focus group by contacting
  3. Attend the CESI Computer Science Consultation Event on September 16th
  4. Complete an online questionnaire which will be available from 15th July, 2017.

The full draft specification can be found here.



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