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Cancellation of Leaving Cert is now on the cards

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Guided by advice: Education Minister Joe McHugh

Guided by advice: Education Minister Joe McHugh

Guided by advice: Education Minister Joe McHugh

The cancellation of the Leaving Cert is now on the cards.

The difficulties involved in conducting the exams safely, along with demands for certainty for students now, have made the decision inevitable.

In a key development yesterday, it is understood that teacher unions told Department of Education officials that running the exams against the challenges presented by Covid-19 was not compatible with health and safety.

Teachers play a critical role in organising and supervising the exams - for about 61,000 students in about 730 schools this year - and without them it would be impossible to go ahead. Education Minister Joe McHugh is not expected to announce his decision on the fate of Leaving Cert 2020 for several days, but there seems no little or no doubt but that it will be called off.

Now the challenge is to find an acceptable replacement for the exams, which will involve some form of predictive grading, using students' results from previous exams.

The logistical difficulties involved in running the exams this year include taking account of social distancing requirements and other public health advice and restrictions.

Among the emerging problems are a fall off in the number of retired teachers and other persons making themselves available to supervise because of risks that may be involved. Other concerns include the possibility of students with underlying health conditions not turning up for the same reason.

Concern about the impact that uncertainty over the exams is having on student wellbeing is adding to the pressure for a change from the plan to reschedule the exams to July 29.

Some 79pc of sixth year students now want them called off and replaced with a system of predictive grading, according to a new survey by the Irish Second-Level Students' Union (ISSU) conducted in the past week. That is a massive jump from the 58pc who, in an ISSU survey a month earlier, voted for the cancellation of the exams if they couldn't happen in June. The 24,000 students who voted in the latest survey make up 39pc of all sixth years.

Only 15pc of students supported the July 29 exam start, while 6pc voted for "other".

The ISSU noted the cohort who do not favour predictive grades said a model needed to be developed that would "ensure fairness and equity".

ISSU president Ciara Fanning said they needed clarification on assessment now.

She said the ISSU was concerned about the mental health and anxiety issues brought to its attention by students in overwhelming numbers.

For the first time yesterday, predictive grading was on the table as on option at a meeting of the exams advisory group, which Mr McHugh attended.

The group represents interests such as teachers, students, parents, school managers and curriculum and exam chiefs, and up to now its focus had been on the practicalities of running the exams in July and August in the context of the pandemic.

The opening up to other options reflects the growing realisation around trying to run traditional exams.

Mr McHugh said the discussions would "assist in making decisions regarding arrangements for the Leaving Certificate that have students' best interests at heart and that are guided at all times by the public health advice".

A lot of work has already gone into various options - all of which involve predictive grading in part of whole - but all are fraught with difficulties around fairness. Fianna Fáil education spokesperson Thomas Byrne has called for the exams to be cancelled, while the National Parents' Council Post Primary (NPCPP) wants a mix of predictive grades and exams.

Irish Independent