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Chaos over exams as ASTI refuses to help on calculated grades

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Warning: Education Minister Joe McHugh says canvassing teachers for better grades ‘will not be tolerated’. PHOTO: LEON FARRELL/PHOTOCALL IRELAND

Warning: Education Minister Joe McHugh says canvassing teachers for better grades ‘will not be tolerated’. PHOTO: LEON FARRELL/PHOTOCALL IRELAND

Warning: Education Minister Joe McHugh says canvassing teachers for better grades ‘will not be tolerated’. PHOTO: LEON FARRELL/PHOTOCALL IRELAND

The Government is scrambling to come up with a solution after a teachers' union plunged the Leaving Cert into fresh chaos last night.

More than 60,000 students face new uncertainty after the Association of Secondary Teachers' Ireland (ASTI) rejected the legal protection being offered to teachers to engage with the calculated-­grades process.

The ASTI described an indemnity signed off by the Attorney General and the Cabinet as "falling far short of what is required".

The union's bombshell has thrown carefully worked-out arrangements for the assessment of 61,000 school-leavers into further disarray.

The indemnity is intended to protect teachers and schools in the event that a student challenges the grade they are awarded under the new system.

It is understood it is of similar standard to the indemnity that is provided by the State to civil servants and judges.

It was part of a package to emerge from detailed discussions on the calculated grades process, which is replacing the summer Leaving Cert exams this year because of Covid-19-related logistical difficulties.

Education Minister Joe McHugh yesterday published guidelines on how the process would work, along with confirmation of the legal protection for teachers and schools.

While the other second-level teachers' union, the TUI, welcomed the "clear legal indemnity", the ASTI said its legal advice was that it could lead to personal liabilities for costs for second-level teachers.

"This position is unacceptable," the union stated.

The ASTI said it would continue to engage with the Department of Education to secure the necessary provisions, but in the meantime was advising its members "not to undertake any work on the process until this issue is resolved".

The ASTI represents teachers in more than half of the country's post-primary schools, so a lack of co-operation by its members is a significant blow.

A Department of Education spokesperson said last night that further clarification had been provided to the unions "and engagement in relation to it is ongoing".

The spokesperson added that Mr McHugh recognised the importance of teachers carrying out work in relation to calculated grades on behalf of the department - "which is why he sought approval from Government to put a State indemnity scheme in place".

Earlier, the Cabinet approved the indemnity to apply where an individual teacher, principal or board of management/Education Training Board was sued.

It would be conditional on their co-operation with the State in defending any legal cases that may arise if students are unhappy with their grades.

In order to get the protection, the person or board would have to show that they acted in good faith by making "every reasonable effort to carry out their role in accordance with the guidance provided".

The publication of the guidelines was intended to clear the way for teachers to take the first steps in a complicated process to arrive at calculated grades for each student in each subject, but the ASTI legal advice has thrown a spanner in the works.

Under the proposed arrangements, calculated grades will be prepared for every student and they will be invited to opt in to receive them.

If a student chooses not to receive calculated grades, they can sit the traditional exams, on a date yet to be determined, but unlikely to be earlier than November.

A student who opts for calculated grades and is not happy with the outcome may also sit the traditional Leaving Cert, in one or more subjects, when it takes place.

The guidance deals with a range of issues, including how teachers/principals should approach the marking and the consequences for anyone who tries to influence the outcome.

The first step in the process involves teachers awarding estimated marks and a class ranking for each student.

Following in-school reviews, the principal will send the markings/rankings to the Department of Education for national standardisation, and it will issue calculated grades.

Standardisation will involve a comparison of how students in a school have fared at Leaving Cert over the past three years to the national standard and will also review the performance of this year's candidates against their overall Junior Cycle performance.

Mr McHugh said "canvassing would be unfair to students and to staff in a school, and it will not be tolerated".

A parent, student or person who persists in seeking to influence marking will be reported to the Department of Education.

Irish Independent