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Fianna Fáil says the time has come to cancel the Leaving Cert

The party’s education spokesperson says the uncertainty is causing stress for students and parents.

Image: Mark Stedman/RollingNews.ie

FIANNA FÁIL HAS called for the Government to cancel this year’s Leaving Certificate and to work on “fair alternatives” to the sit-down exams in order to take the pressure off students, parents and teachers.

The party’s education spokesperson Thomas Byrne says the lack of clarity about the State exams following the publication of the Government’s roadmap to easing Covid-19 restrictions has only added to the “already heightened anxiety” of students. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last night announced the five-phase plan for Ireland to get back to some sense of normalcy over the coming months. 

Under the roadmap, primary and secondary schools are not set to open until autumn, which Byrne says puts students “back where they started in March – unsure what the situation is, and whether the exams will be going ahead”.

As part of phase one – beginning 18 May – school and college buildings may reopen for teachers to access materials for the organisation and distribution of remote learning.

“This document contains details about the phased reopening of certain sectors and industry, and sets out dates for the proposed lifting of certain restrictions but not once is the Leaving Cert mentioned,” said Byrne. 

Education Minister Joe McHugh previously announced that 29 July was the most likely date by which the Leaving Cert examinations would take place. 

“I believe the government cannot continue to adopt this wait and see approach with the Leaving Cert. It is becoming clearer with every week that passes that it is simply not tenable for it to proceed,” said Byrne.

The time has come to make the call to cancel the Leaving Cert and take the pressure off students, parents and their teachers.

Byrne said he has discussed alternatives to the exams with some universities and with Minister McHugh over last few weeks, “and we must now switch our focus to them”.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie Byrne said the cancellation has to be predicated on extra third-level places being made available, which in turn would ease competition. 

“No system is going to be fair, the whole issue of predictive grades has been looked for by some, that is not without complications obviously, and I’m certain it’s one of the options under consideration by the minister at the moment. 

“Another option would be some type of interview process. Another option would possibly be an SAT test. There’s a range of things,” he said. 

I’m now looking for them up to ramp up the consideration and to make a decision on a fair alternative. I think to do that, they also need to bring on board the universities and the higher education institutions so that they can have a much greater input into what those alternatives would be. 

 ’Further confusion and uncertainty are not an option’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on RTÉ’s The Late Late Show that “it is still the plan” that sixth-year students will get classroom time over a two-week period before the exams take place.

“It’s still the plan that sixth years will get some class time before the exams start on the 29th of July, there is a lot of work going on how this can be done safely with social distancing, it’s not straightforward, it is difficult,” the Taoiseach said. 

“And of course we are still exploring alternatives, like for example predictive marking, but that’s not perfect either, but we’ll be guided by the public health advice at the end of the day whatever takes place.”

Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan said the education sector is giving specific consideration and trying to find a way to apply and adhere to public health advice. 

He said the National Public Health Emergency Team is available to the Department of Education to advise on what social distancing measures would need to be in place for students to be able to return to the school environment before the exams.

Holohan said ultimately, the decision rests with the Department of Education.

Sinn Féin meanwhile has asked McHugh to outline the criteria by which the government will decide whether or not it is safe to run the exams on 29 July. 

“Sinn Féin have called for contingency plans for State exams to be outlined for over a month, but we are yet to see the details of this planning,” the party’s education spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said. 

“What Leaving Cert students need to know is in what circumstances will it be considered safe to run the Leaving Cert, and in what circumstances will it be considered unsafe, and how likely are these scenarios?

“Further confusion and uncertainty are not an option. There has been too much of this already and I am surprised and disappointed that the Taoiseach did not address this issue in his speech,” Ó Laoghaire said. 

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