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Minister Foley 'taken aback' after ASTI pulls out of Leaving Cert planning talks

The union has said that the plans from the department would not provide a “meaningful Leaving Certificate” for students.

LAST UPDATE | 11 Feb 2021

THE ASSOCIATION OF Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) has withdrawn from talks on the 2021 Leaving Cert as the plan being developed by the Department of Education would not provide a “meaningful Leaving Certificate” for students. 

The union had entered into discussions after the Minister for Education last week announced that officials were preparing for a twin-track approach to plan for both the traditional Leaving Cert and a “corresponding measure”. 

The union had previously argued that the Leaving Cert should go ahead in the traditional manner. 

Reacting to the ASTI’s withdrawal, Education Minister Norma Foley said she was “both taken aback and disappointed”, saying the union gave no indication of its intentions to withdraw during today’s discussions. 

The minister said the Department will continue to engage with all education representative bodies, including the teacher unions, to provide Leaving Certificate examinations and a corresponding measure for examination students.

“Fairness and certainty for the class of 2021 is at the centre of what we want to achieve in these engagements. We are happy to engage with all concerned to achieve this objective,” Foley said. 

In a statement this evening, the ASTI was strongly critical of the approach being adopted by the department, saying that the process would see the Leaving Cert being “relegated” behind a calculated grades option. 

The union said that the lack of data this year would make such an option “extremely challenging”. Students due to sit the Leaving Cert this year missed almost three months of in-class teaching last year and have already missed over a month this year.

“We entered a process in good faith to explore the position whereby if the Leaving Certificate or elements of it do not go ahead, a fair and credible choice or option would be available to students,” ASTI General Secretary Kieran Christie said this evening. 

It is clear to us that the approach being developed would not provide the meaningful Leaving Certificate experience this cohort of students deserve. The process is being developed in a manner that would see the Leaving Certificate relegated to a secondary position with Calculated Grades the premier option. The lack of data this year would make the delivery of a credible Calculated Grades process extremely challenging.

Christie added that students are currently experiencing additional stress and that it is “extraordinary” that they’re being asked to “effectively prepare for two versions” of the Leaving Cert. 

The union has asked the minister “re-establish the focus of the talks” and that they will also continue to engage constructively on the re-opening of schools.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) and Irish Second-Level Students’ Union (ISSU) said they will both continue to engage in talks. 

The ISSU said it was “shocked and disappointed” by the ASTI’s decision, accusing the union of causing “stress, anxiety and worry to skyrocket amongst students”. 

“This is a time when students need cooperation between all stakeholders. Students have been through a horrendous year and now may face an uphill battle in the months ahead – we need to show them compassion, we need to provide clarity, and the ISSU position remains that students deserve a choice,” an ISSU spokesperson said. 

Likewise, the TUI believes that engagement in these intensive negotiations is the best means of ensuring that the views of teachers are central to this process and its outcomes. 

“We are committed to allaying the anxiety currently being felt by students, their families and teachers. Resolution of key issues is critical for students, teachers and the integrity of the process,” a TUI spokesperson said. 

- With reporting from Adam Daly 

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