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'It's not realistic or viable' to hold Leaving Cert practical exams in current timeframe

Students with oral exams and music practicals have been awarded full marks – but other practical exams are to still go ahead.

Image: RollingNews.ie

SECONDARY SCHOOL TEACHERS have raised concerns about how practical parts of the Leaving Cert examination can be carried out in a short time span and in an environment where social distancing rules must be adhered to.

In mid-March, Education Minister Joe McHugh announced that the Leaving Cert would be deferred until July or August or another month later this year. Oral examinations, which are usually held before Easter, were cancelled and students were awarded full marks.

Some practical examinations, like the music practical, were also awarded full marks.

But, as of now, it’s still expected that some Leaving Cert practical exams will take place.

The subjects with practical components that are still due as part of the Leaving Cert include Art, Agricultural Science, Engineering, and Construction. 

For the Art exam, the practical and life drawing elements are worth 62.5% together. Sligo-based teacher Máire Hynes told TheJournal.ie that it wasn’t feasible to award Art students full marks for those practical elements, and grade them solely on their knowledge of Art History, or the remaining 37.5% of the exam.

“It would not be a good indication at all… some children will not do well in history of art.”

The students were first given their topics for their Art practical project at the beginning of the year, and it was due to be finished on 3 April – so students have three weeks of work on their practical yet to do.

“It’s kind of slow in the beginning and they’re getting their ideas together but they begin to really speed up in the last four weeks of the project,” Hynes says.

“My students would have got it done in the three weeks no bother, however, that all has to be left in the school. The rule is they don’t leave the art room.”

It’s been flagged that Leaving Cert students will need to have two weeks back in class before their exams; Hynes says that “it’s not really feasible” to expect Leaving Cert students to finish their art practical projects in just two weeks, as they will have other subjects to devote their time to.

There’s no point in me saying, well I’ll take them into the Art room for a full day’s work because I can’t do that really because they’ve got other subjects. 

Ag Science

Peter Keaney, another secondary school teacher represented by the ASTI, says that for the Ag Science Leaving Cert, you’d need your project work, your practical copy, and your farmyard plans done by the Friday week before Easter.

“You would have been doing your projects over a two-year period of the cycle, but – inevitably you will always leave little bits and pieces to be tidied up in the last two or three weeks so that it’s fresh in the students’ minds as well.” 

For the Ag Science exam, an assessor comes in to monitor the practical work done by the students and to interview them about their project.

“And basically, what they would often do is can raise the marks, or lower them, or they can leave them the same. But the problem is that the project work isn’t finished.” 

He says that some of the unfinished work can be done online, and some of it can’t.

Other subjects are “in a bigger dilemma than us,” Keaney says. Engineering students need to assemble 13 different materials in the weeks ahead of the project, and then when they have their practical test, they have to assemble those pieces.

The two-to-three-week timeframe to assemble those pieces, as well as the six-hour exam practical, is going to be difficult to find, he says.

This could also disproportionately affect a certain type of student, as practical students need time with specialised equipment to complete their exams; a student who studies engineering might also be oriented towards other subjects that also have practical elements.

I can’t see it being viable to try and run the likes of the engineering, the building construction, the Ag science practical.
At this stage, [giving them full marks for the practical] is the only fair option to give those students the same chance as all other students to achieve their maximum. 
Because if we persist with the practicals, they’re going to be hugely disadvantaged when they go back in for that fortnight.

“I think it’ll put the students who still have practical components under so much pressure,” he says.

Hynes says that the Education Department would have to think carefully about what it would do, and that allocating full marks for the oral examinations seemed to be a “knee-jerk” reaction.

She says that they should “absolutely not” award full marks for the project or life sketching, as it’s an unusual discipline. She also says that marking the mocks exams wouldn’t work because some schools don’t hold mocks exams, and some are “shockingly badly marked”.

But what they could do, she says, is to cut down on what was required from the Art project instead. 

They could say one finished piece and the sketchbook work that goes with it and they could give that pared down version of the project the 50%. 

Speaking to SpunOut during an Instagram Live, Education Minister Joe McHugh said that they were now looking at the details of the Leaving Cert, including Art projects and Woodwork “which would require students to come into the classroom”.

McHugh said that there would be a “common sense solution” on this, and said that they would make sure that practical and project work won’t clash with written work.

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