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Leaving Cert: Government 'actively planning' for exams with alternative option to be available for students, says Minister

The minister said the new option will not be the same as last year’s calculated grades.

Image: Laura Hutton/RollingNews.ie

Updated Feb 5th 2021, 5:31 PM

THE DEPARTMENT OF Education is to actively plan for the holding of the Leaving Cert but will also plan a “corresponding measure” that can be offered to students. 

Minister Norma Foley has said that this measure will be “different to examinations” but would be run by the State Examinations Commission (SEC). 

The minister says that she aims to give details to students “as quickly as possible” about how the Leaving Cert will be held and the new option to be offered to students. 

Discussion on the Junior Cert examinations are ongoing. 

Foley said that “due to the nature of the pandemic” it is required that two plans must be made, one plan to hold the exams and a “a parallel measure that can also be offered to students”. 

“We will be actively planning both to hold the Leaving Certificate examinations, and to put in place a corresponding measure that can also be offered to students,” the minister said in a statement this evening.

As well as being run by the SEC, the department has said that the corresponding measure would need to have: 

  • Better provision for out-of-school learners in the corresponding process
  • Some cognisance of performance in “additional component” elements, such as coursework, orals and practicals etc
  • Timely progression to higher and further education from both processes

This decision has been taken following what is described as “intensive engagements” by a sub-group of the Advisory Group tasked with plotting a course for the examinations. 

The group includes representatives of students, parents, teachers, school leadership and management bodies, the State Examinations Commission (SEC) and the Department of Education. 

Foley said that she is “committed to working with all the education partners” to deliver on the plan and has she is inviting them to “engage intensively with the department on this”. 

Unions

Responding to the announcement this evening, both the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) and the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) said they accepted the offer to talks. 

“We are committed to working constructively with all stakeholders to ensure that Leaving Certificate 2021 goes ahead as normally as possible and that alternative plans, should they be necessary, will be put in place,” the ASTI said. 

The TUI said similarly: 

We are keenly aware of the need for clarity in relation to State Examinations this year and the anxiety currently being experienced by all in school communities as a result of the ongoing challenges presented by the national health emergency.

In the intensive talks, the TUI will participate constructively in what we will insist will be meaningful engagement that recognises the professional views and legitimate concerns of our members, including a fundamental concern to protect the standards and reputation of national awards to students. 

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Calculated grades

The minister said the new measure to be offered to students will not be the same as last year’s calculated grades system and will have “new features”.

“Any corresponding measure should have the confidence of the education partners. Last year a process was put in place that involved schools generating estimated marks and the application of a national standardisation process. This allowed students to progress. Any corresponding measure this year would need to incorporate new features,” the minister said.

In particular, the State Examinations Commission will need to be given the necessary legal powers to run the process. It will also need to provide more comprehensively for students studying outside school. Recognition of the skills and competences associated with orals, practicals and coursework should also form a clearer part of any such measure.

Students due to the Leaving Cert this year missed almost three months of in-class teaching last year and have already missed over a month this year, with solid timeline yet set for the return to class teaching since Christmas. 

Minister Foley made reference to this ongoing closure this evening, stating that it has “impacted on learning and preparedness for examinations”. 

“There is no perfect answer to what is a very challenging situation. The situation is not identical to last year and so any solutions that we consider need to be appropriate for this year’s cohort. My commitment to students and their families is that we will give as much further certainty as we can, as early as we can,” she said.  

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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