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Waiting Game

Leaving Cert decision pushed back as opposition lines up against holding of traditional exams

The Advisory Group tasked with plotting a course for the examinations met again today.

THE GOVERNMENT HAS expressed hope that a decision on this year’s Leaving Cert could be made next week but the issue was not discussed by Cabinet today.

Ministers had raised hopes that clarity could be brought to the situation today but those hopes faded following a meeting of the Cabinet Sub-committee on Education yesterday. 

The Advisory Group tasked with plotting a course for the examinations met again today with Education Minister Norma Foley in attendance. 

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

A government spokesperson said this afternoon that there is a desire for this process to advance so it can be discussed at Cabinet next Tuesday. 

Students due to the Leaving Cert this year missed almost three months of in-class teaching last year and have already missed a month this year, with no timeline yet set for the return to class teaching since Christmas. 

Among the options for the Leaving Cert include holding the exams in the traditional manner or repeating last year’s calculated grades system. A hybrid model of the two has also been suggested. 

Unions have argued that the Leaving Cert should  go ahead in the traditional manner but a number of opposition parties have said that an alternative should be found. 

Last year, Leaving Cert students were given calculated grades instead of the traditional exam.

Labour’s Aodháin Ó Ríordáin TD expressed frustration today that a review into last year’s process has not been completed.

“If that had happened at that time we would have learnt our lessons and be in a better position to make a decision as to what should happen with the Leaving Cert cohort,” Ó Riordain said.

Absolutely nothing has happened in terms of the independent review. Now we are faced with making a decision with no information and no lessons having been learned.

He added that his party believes calculated grades should be used again.  

“The decision needs to be made now – it’s not fair on students watching the news every day to learn what is happening next. We have no idea when they will be back in schools,” he said.

Offer a calculated grade to every student and and after that, if a student isn’t happy with that grading system, they can return and do a written exam.

Gary Gannon TD of the Social Democrats also said that Leaving Cert should not go ahead and that repeated grades should be used again. 

“Over the last couple of days there has been talk about a blended option offered to students, it’s such a level of uncertainty,” Gannon added.

“I think calculated grades give students a certainty of what will happen.

The blended options means that one cohort will be taking one exam and the other cohort of students will be taking another exam. When the students do get back to school it’s going to be impossible for teachers to teach two different classes, taking different approaches to the Leaving Cert.

“There will also be potential problems on the horizon in the sense of college offers going out in the summer, which will be given the greater weight?”

Sinn Féin has said that students should be given an option of whether they wish to sit their exams.

“If calculated grades are used, then there are fairer ways of checking their accuracy. The minister must urgently examine how this will be done. We do not want to see a repeat of last year – unfair algorithms and school profiling must not be used, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD said.

“Sinn Féin also believe it is crucial that students who want to sit written Leaving Cert exams are given the option to do so.

“The detail of this will be important – what will the alternative be, how will the grades be arrived at, the role of teachers in this. I think the choice needs to be on a no detriment basis, so that students can avail of the better mark in their CAO.”

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