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Unions and Education Minister agree the 'established' Leaving Cert must take place in June

Meanwhile, the decision not to allow in-school learning for children with special needs has been called “devastating”.
Jan 8th 2021, 7:45 AM 44,254 116

Updated Jan 8th 2021, 2:45 PM

EDUCATION MINISTER NORMA Foley has told teaching unions the government wants the Leaving Certificate to go ahead as planned. 

However, concerns were raised about exam candidates not getting back to school soon, and what would be Plan B for the Leaving Cert.

The minister has said that the plan at the moment is for the exam-based Leaving Cert to go ahead this year.

Talks between teachers’ unions and the Department of Education concluded just after 2.30pm.

The meeting was held after the Government reversed a decision to have Leaving Cert students return to school buildings from next week.

It is understood that as of now, the decision stands, that Leaving Cert students will not be returning to school next week. 

A spokesperson for the minister said the meeting with stakeholders was “very positive”, with all parties agreeing that the traditional manner in which the exams are held must go ahead this year.

Today’s meeting was an “airing of views” rather than a meeting where decisions were made, but there was an agreement for continued engagement. 

All parties agreed to do what is needed to ensure that it can happen – with everyone of the view that calculated grades should be avoided this year at all costs.

Government sources state that the minister wants progress to happen quickly and for students to be back in school “as soon as possible”.

Until that time, students will continue with online learning. 

Other government sources have said there is a need to realism in this crisis. 

They stated that sixth years have already missed three months of school last year, with many not having done any summer exams and no mocks.

If students don’t return to school, they might miss another three months this year, they said.

Without face time with teachers, access to labs and practical rooms, there would be big question marks about realistically holding the Leaving Cert, they said, adding that students’ grades will then have to be estimated by teachers students have barely met, and based on a syllabus they haven’t completed.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Prime Time last night, Foley said that it was the “firm and shared objective” of teachers, students and parents that the “established” Leaving Cert would take place in June.

Foley said that students, parents and education spokespeople from the opposition had asked for particular consideration to be taken for Leaving Cert students and children with addition needs if there was to be another lockdown.

“I did that, I listened, I put that option on the table. Unfortunately, that was not agreed to by the partners in education,” she said.

It was announced on Wednesday that primary and secondary schools would be closed for the month of January at least. An exception was made for Leaving Cert students and children with special needs – with Leaving Cert students asked to return for three days each week for the rest of the month. 

But teachers, parents and students raised concerns at having 61,000 Leaving Cert students, around 16,000 special needs students, plus thousands of teachers return to classrooms from next week when Covid-19 cases are surging.

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The general secretary of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland Michael Gillespie told TheJournal.ie yesterday that schools were not prepared for students to attend the school buildings.

Other teachers were concerned about the prevalence of Covid-19 in their community, and that it would spill into schools quite quickly because of this.

Schools reopened for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic began in September, and remained open until December, closing for the Christmas period in line with the school year.

Teachers have prepared for online lessons for the past few weeks, expecting a third surge and a third lockdown in January and school buildings to be closed. Juggling between on-site lessons for Leaving Cert students, and online lessons for all other secondary students is a “logistical nightmare”, Gillespie said.

The Education Minister agreed to meet with the unions today, and sought public-health advice about the partial reopening of schools.

She said that the advice said that “…The partial return to school, particularly for children with additional needs and the Leaving Cert students, was absolutely acceptable is absolutely doable and in their estimation it should go ahead.”

Foley has repeatedly stressed that schools are safe, and that 75% of schools have not needed to be referred to public health teams due to a Covid-19 outbreak.

 

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Gráinne Ní Aodha

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