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Education Minister Joe McHugh defended the decision to cancel the Leaving Certificate.
Leaving Cert

'That is a disgrace': Row erupts over claims 'school profiling' will discriminate against some students

Education Minister Joe McHugh defended the decision to cancel this year’s Leaving Certificate.

A ROW ERUPTED in the Dáil this afternoon over concerns raised about the Leaving Certificate predictive grade mechanism and how it will impact students.

Last week the Government cancelled the Leaving Certificate exams which were due to begin on July 29.

Instead, students will now be offered the option of accepting grades calculated by their teachers or sitting the Leaving Certificate at a later date when the pandemic eases.

Labour’s Aodhan O’Riordain claimed that part of the new system discriminates against working class students.

In respect of school profiling, estimated marks from each school will be adjusted to bring them into line with the expected distribution for the school.

“I sometimes wonder if enough people in the House or Irish society have any comprehension of what it is like to attend a DEIS school and the number of barriers between such pupils and their ability to maximise their potential in this Republic.

“In many instances, this is the only opportunity for students to break out of poverty and disadvantage. The one opportunity they have is a written exam or an exam where the person marking the exam does not know who they are, where they are from or the schools they attend,” said O’Riordain.

He hit out against school league tables within the Department of Education which he claimed are not accessible through the Freedom of Information Act give an “unfair representation of the education system”.

“With the greatest of respect, I cannot accept the answer the Minister gave to other Deputies regarding school profiling. The Labour Party will accept the assessed grades system as proposed by the Minister.

“We appreciate there is no other option at this stage, but we will not accept the school profiling. We cannot do that because it is fundamentally unfair. The simplest thing for the Minister to do now is to delete that from the process and let every script and assessed grade stand on their own merits,” he said.

Not pleased with the contribution by the Labour TD, Education Minister Joe McHugh said ”sending the message out today that they will be disadvantaged because they are in a disadvantaged school” was not right.

“That is a disgrace,” said the minister.

“There is no point in telling me you will not get in a row with me and pointing a finger at me and calling me a disgrace. I am calling the Minister’s process, not the Minister, a disgrace,” said the Labour TD.

“There are Leaving Certificate students listening to that. It is wrong that the Deputy is peddling that because exceptional students, whether in a community school, a DEIS school or a private school, will not be discriminated against because it is an all-school mark. It is a grade,” said the minister.

Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon made a similar point, adding:

Something you learn when you grow up in a working-class house is that somehow poverty is your fault. You work hard in school. You work hard helping with your siblings and supporting family members who might be ill.
You have to go off and get a second job while you are 16 so you can support the family income. No matter how hard you work, it will not be enough to shake off the limitations forced on you because of your family’s wealth, or lack thereof.

Sinn Fein’s Donnchadh O Laoghaire said he was not convinced the right alternative has been chosen.

He claimed that predicted or calculated grades are “far from reliable”.

“Even where they have long been built into the system and have a basis in track record in standardised classwork, recent State exam predictions being part of university applications,” he added.

“Here we have none of those things. Teachers are working with students who had no expectations their mocks or Christmas tests could potentially carry such weight as they now do.

“There are plenty of students who know that they can turn the gas on late in the year.”

Fianna Fail’s Thomas Byrne welcomed the decision to cancel the Leaving Certificate exams. However, he expressed concern over how the department proposes to adjust grades.

“I think that you’ve set out in the Dail the fact that the State Examinations Commission is not allowed under statute to get involved – this is a major flaw, minister, and it must be rectified at the earliest possible opportunity,” Byrne said.

“There is expertise and people within the State Examinations Commission that, in my view, would be of considerable assistance to this whole process and, in fact, necessary help to this process

“I believe that independent expert advice is absolutely essential to the minister and to the department in relation to the setting up of the model to ensure that no one is disadvantaged by this model and that no one is advantaged by this model.”

On cancelling the Leaving Certificate, McHugh said that after consulting with the State Examinations Commission and the Department of Health, it became “evident” that exams held in July and August would be very different to the normal process.

“It would not be the exam experience which students have prepared for and would have had an expectation of sitting before this crisis,” the minister added.

“The State Examinations Commission advised me that the examinations would not be comparable to the Leaving Certificate in any other year, potentially involving the needs for students to wear masks and gloves sitting exams, superintendents requiring PPE, and the prospect of the exam papers having to be redesigned to such an extent that they would have been unrecognisable compared to what students have spent two years preparing for.

“All this raises fundamental issues of fairness.”

McHugh added: “In addition to issues of fairness and physical health, I also had to give regards to the mental health and wellbeing of our young people.

“I was given advice by my department’s National Educational Psychological Service about the anxiety, stress and trauma being experienced by young people in the midst of this terrible pandemic.”

He said the new plan will allow students to progress to the next stage of their life.

With reporting by Press Association

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