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Memo being brought to Cabinet as speculation about Leaving Cert cancellation mounts

However, concerns have been raised about the legality of predicted grades.

File photo
File photo
Image: Mark Stedman/RollingNews.ie

Updated May 7th 2020, 10:45 PM

THE MINISTER FOR Education, Joe McHugh, is expected to make a recommendation that this year’s Leaving Certificate examinations be cancelled.

A memo is set to be brought to Cabinet tomorrow outlining possible alternatives to the exams, TheJournal.ie understands.

The exams are expected to be replaced by a system in which students will be awarded points or grades based on their classwork.

The proposed cancellation of the exams was first reported by the Irish Times this evening.

Alternative assessment models were discussed by various stakeholders in recent days.

Meetings have been hosted by the Department of Education and Skills with a range of stakeholders including representatives of students, parents, teachers, the State Examinations Commission, the National Educational Psychological Service and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.

In an earlier statement, a department spokesperson said the advisory group “continued its discussions on the practicalities of holding the Leaving Certificate examinations, given the constraints of social distancing and other measures that may be required, based on the available medical advice”.

The group also discussed alternative assessment models, and received updates on the measures that have been put in place to support students’ wellbeing.

Labour’s education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has questioned the legality of predicted grades.

In a statement issued tonight, Ó Ríordáin said: “If predictive grading is the replacement Plan B we need assurance tomorrow that it is legally sound.

“Introducing a new system entirely based on predictive grading would not satisfy the Minister’s obligation under law to hold a State examination of secondary school students, but while predictive grading could be part of the solution previously for students who cannot attend exams – for medical or other reasons – the Minister needs to be clear tomorrow that whatever he proposes is legally sound and if new legislation will be needed.”

Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon, meanwhile, said if the exams are cancelled, the government must ensure there is “equality of access for students from non-traditional backgrounds to enter third level on equal terms to all others”.

Majority of students in favour of cancellation

A spokesperson for the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union (ISSU) said the organisation would “welcome any clarity” on the issue after weeks of speculation.

They told TheJournal.ie that many students want the exams to be cancelled but are wary of predicted grades being given.

“A detailed plan needs to be developed, the biggest factor needs to be that it’s fair for students,” the spokesperson said.

In a joint statement released earlier today, teachers’ unions the ASTI and the TUI said they “will continue to engage through the advisory group of stakeholders in relation to contingency arrangements for the State Examinations and will not be commenting further at this point”.

“Teachers continue to support their students in these difficult and extraordinary times,” the statement added.

A second online survey by the ISSU, conducted between 1 and 5 May, indicated that the majority of students are still in favour of the cancellation of exams.

Almost 24,000 final year examination students participated in the survey, and almost 79% of respondents were in favour of cancellation of exams, wanting a predicted grading model to be used instead.

This represents a 20-point shift towards cancellation in comparison to a previous ISSU survey, conducted between 26 March and 1 April. In this survey, just 49% of students chose cancellation as a first preference, which increased to 58% when June exams were ruled out.

With reporting by Christina Finn

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