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'Unacceptable' and 'inappropriate' that teachers would be lobbied by parents and students

The main teachers’ union said it still has “a number of major concerns” with the new Leaving Cert plan.

Image: RollingNews.ie

Updated May 10th 2020, 4:40 PM

TEACHER AND PRINCIPAL representatives have called it “unacceptable” and “completely inappropriate” for students and parents to be contacting Leaving Cert teachers to lobby them about the calculated grade.

They suggested in interviews with RTÉ, of putting in place a protocol to log these attempts at lobbying, to ensure fairness and objectivity in Plan C for the Leaving Cert this year.

On Friday, it was announced that the Leaving Cert exams on 29 July would be cancelled, and students would instead receive ‘calculated grades’.

These are calculated through teachers giving their students an assessment score, reviewed by other teachers and the principal, which will then be sent to the Department of Education for ‘national standardisation’.

This is where percentages would be compared with previous years, and this Leaving Cert class’ Junior Cert results, to come up with a final ‘calculated grade’.

If students are unhappy with their grade, and unhappy with their appeal, they will have the option of sitting a written exam later in the year, possibly in November.

U-turn on full marks for orals and practicals

Teachers union ASTI has said that it would be advising its members to “engage” with estimating calculated grades for their students, after the Department of Education confirmed that this would be a once-off system to assess students.

The ASTI has also called on the Department of Education to reinstate full marks for the oral examinations, after a u-turn was made on this decision, and has also asked that students be awarded full marks for practical projects.

This call has been rebutted with the point that if students are given full marks for all orals and practicals, because the Department of Education wouldn’t be able to compare this year’s grades with previous years’ results, which is a necessary part of the grading system.

At 11pm on Friday, the other major teachers’ union, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), said that it had “decided to engage with the system of Calculated Grades outlined by the Minister”.

The TUI said that although written exams were “the clear preference” for the union, that this had “proved to be not possible”. It added that students “have a right to advance to the next stage of their lives”, and a mechanism was needed to do so.

Concerns from the ASTI

After a meeting of the ASTI executive on Friday and at 6pm yesterday, a statement was released after midnight that advised members to engage with the calculated grades system so that students “can progress to the next stage of their lives”.

The ASTI has a policy of teachers not assessing their students for State exams, as it “ensures the integrity of the State Exams process, the value of which is infinitely superior to any other process”.

But, the ASTI also acknowledges that because of the Covid-19 pandemic, it “recognises that this year it is necessary to engage with this new process”.

The ASTI has secured confirmation from the Department and the Minister that these measures are being implemented on an emergency basis and will not be regarded as a precedent or an agreement to operate this process in future years.

Despite this, the union still has “a number of major concerns” with the process which it is calling on the Minister for Education and Skills to address as a matter of urgency.

These concerns are:

  • The u-turn on full marks for oral and some practical exams: Students had been given full marks for all oral and music practicals, but on Friday, this decision was reversed, and teachers now have to estimate what mark the students would have received. The ASTI also wants full marks awarded to all practical projects.
  • The data to be relied upon by teachers: This relates to what classwork teachers should use to assess students. The ASTI said it would be “raising these matters at the earliest opportunity” with the Department of Education.
  • Fairness and objectivity: The ASTI says it has concerns about the “equity and perceived objectivity” for students as well as concerns about “the professional integrity” of teachers and school leaders.

Following yesterday’s meeting, ASTI president Deirdre Mac Donald said that these were “extraordinary times”.

“This has been a difficult year for our Leaving Cert students and we are very aware of the stress they have endured to date due to this pandemic.

The process outlined by the Minister is far from ideal.
However, we will be striving to improve the process in order to deliver fairness, objectivity, and equity for all students and protect the professional integrity of teachers.

Teachers being lobbied

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s This Week programme, McDonald said that it is “just unacceptable” that teachers would be lobbied by parents and students.

The fact is that we would have to put in place a protocol around that. The integrity of the system depends on an impartial system being put in place. So, a lobbying protocol will most certainly have been put in place immediately.

Clive Byrne, president of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, said that as part of that protocol, it should be “necessary” should be a written note to say if and when a teacher is contacted by a student or parent.

“If somebody is contacted by student or parent and asked in relation to canvassing or grade or other things like that, a written record should be kept.

“And that must be taken on board when the teachers are making their grades and their rankings with the principal.”

He said that lobbying for grades or canvassing “would be completely inappropriate”.  

The ASTI said it will be seeking a number of clarifications from the Department of Education and Skills in relation to its concerns. The TUI has also said that it requires clarifications from the Department about the process.

This afternoon, the TUI joined the call for safeguards to protect teachers from any lobbying. 

“A protocol that protects teachers from any form of lobbying or canvassing in relation to their role in terms of the system of calculated grades must immediately be introduced by the Department of Education and Skills. The professional integrity and independence of teachers must be protected,” TUI President Seamus Lahart said. 

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