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Leaving Cert plan confirmed: Students can opt for written exams in June or calculated grades

The proposals follow intense discussions between the department and teaching unions.
Feb 17th 2021, 6:24 PM 67,143 41

Updated Feb 17th 2021, 10:13 PM

LEAVING CERT STUDENTS are to be given the option not to sit exams and instead apply for a calculated grade accredited by the State Examinations Commission.

Minister for Education Norma Foley said this evening that the proposals offered “a system that is fair and that provides the opportunity for real progression for students”. 

Under the plan, students who decide to take an exam will receive whichever result is higher between their calculated grade and the result from the written exam. 

The overall result will be given on the day of the results and students will not receive the calculated grade before they sit their exam.  

Subject to public health advice, it is envisaged that the Leaving Cert exams will take place during the traditional period in June. The timetable will be published tomorrow by the State Examinations Commission.  

Junior Cert examinations will not take place, allowing greater physical space for Leaving Cert students to sit the exams. 

Oral and practical elements will also go ahead and will form part of the Leaving Cert exams for those who decide to take the exams. Orals and practicals are to take place over a number of days “during the Easter vacation or shortly after”.

The department notes however that “in some subjects” practical exams won’t be possible and says revised schedules will be provided in the coming weeks. 

Coursework that forms part of exams will also proceed with the SEC to provide “additional time” for this to take place. 

The minister said this evening that collection of data to determine calculated grades will be taken “right up until the end of May”.

She added that more details and guidance on the process are to be published in the coming weeks. 

“All stakeholders have worked extremely hard to get to this point. I have listened carefully to all, and we have worked together to find solutions. Students and parents have been clear on the need for both clarity and choice which I believe his decision gives them,” she said. 

As requested by the student representatives we explored thoroughly the option of providing the SEC-Accredited Grades to students in advance of the written examinations, but this option is not possible. 

“I am conscious that many students are concerned that they have not covered the full curriculum for their subjects in class, due to the interruption of in-person learning caused by the pandemic. Everyone wants a system that is fair and that provides the opportunity for real progression for students,” the minister added.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Six One News this evening, the minister spoke about the wider reopening of schools, saying she hopes for a phased return including Leaving Cert students from the beginning of March. 

“Obviously that is very much again on the understanding of public health and the agreement of public health advice,” she said. 

Foley briefed teaching unions on the plans this afternoon after outlining the proposals at a meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee on Education.  

It comes after intense discussions followed the decision of the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI) to pull out of talks on the Leaving Cert last week. 

However, the ASTI has said they are “bitterly disappointed” that the accredited grades system is not underpinned by externally validated elements like coursework or projects. 

“SEC Accredited Grades will prove a very challenging proposition for all concerned given the lack of credible data,” said a spokesperson for the ASTI.

“The unavailability of an option for students to undertake externally validated second components, coursework, project work, orals and aurals if they opt to choose the pathway of SEC Accredited Grades adds to this omission and is a regrettable injustice for these students.”

Union response

In a statement this evening, the TUI union expressed concerns and disappointment about the plans for this year’s Leaving Certificate. 

“The fundamental belief of the TUI is that the Leaving Certificate continues to be the gold standard that enjoys public confidence and national and international credibility. Our demand that it not be set aside, as had been sought from certain quarters, has been vindicated,” it said. 

“However, while acknowledging the decision to proceed with the Leaving Certificate examinations in June and recognising the need for a system of accredited grades as a contingency, given the ongoing public health emergency, the union tonight expressed significant reservations and deep disappointment about elements of the decision.” 

In particular, the TUI said that the Minister’s decision to apply marks awarded for oral and practical examinations only to the established Leaving Certificate process is regrettable and regressive.

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The TUI said it believes that ongoing engagement with the Department and the State Examinations Commission in the coming days and weeks is essential and will ensure that the views and concerns of teachers are central to this process and that the professional integrity of teachers is protected.  

Taking into consideration the “difficulties experienced by students and their teachers in covering the full programme of study because of the disrupted nature of the past year”, the TUI also called for immediate confirmation that there will be further adjustments to the June Leaving Certificate examination papers. 

“This could be achieved – without compromising the integrity of the examinations – by reducing the number of questions to be answered without reducing the duration of the exams,” the union said.

Meanwhile, the ASTI said it is “bitterly disappointed” that the process of the SEC accredited grades is “not underpinned in anyway by externally validated elements such as coursework, projects, etc”. 

“SEC Accredited Grades will prove a very challenging proposition for all concerned given the lack of credible data,” the ASTI said. 

“ASTI holds the view that what has been announced today should never have been considered beyond being a contingency measure should the Leaving Certificate have to be cancelled due to the pandemic,” it said. 

With reporting by Christina Finn and Hayley Halpin

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