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Coronavirus Ireland: 'Let students opt out of the State exams'

Expert calls for range of Leaving Cert options using past results and recent national averages

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MINISTER: Joe McHugh. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins

MINISTER: Joe McHugh. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins

MINISTER: Joe McHugh. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins

Each Leaving Cert student should be given the choice of sitting an exam this year or having their marks calculated on a mixture of past results and overall national averages, says an education expert.

It would be kinder to students and better for their mental health if the State examinations were formally cancelled and replaced with a series of options which would give individual students choices on how they would like to be assessed, says former school principal Colm Cregan.

Mr Cregan, who has worked as a Department of Education inspector, is now chief adviser to the head of the schools inspection bureau in Dubai, which oversees the education of half-a-million students.

Education Minister Joe McHugh has set a date of July 29 for the Leaving Cert exams to begin, public health considerations permitting. An exams timetable is expected to be issued in the first week of June. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dail last Thursday there would be "major difficulties" in using predictive marking. He said some students are concerned teachers may not give them a fair grade.

On Friday, the Government confirmed schools and colleges will not reopen until September. After the Taoiseach's announcement on the plan to lift restrictions, Fianna Fail said the Leaving Cert should not take place and that alternatives should now be explored to take pressure off parents and students.

The party's education spokesperson, Thomas Byrne, said: "Given that the Leaving Cert is not mentioned in the road map published this evening and schools aren't opening till autumn and given the preparations are not in place to have a fair Leaving Cert, I'm fully convinced the Leaving Cert should not take place.

"There is no scope for it to take place. Take the pressure off parents and students."

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr Cregan proposed an alternative approach to traditional methods involving assessments, but where teachers would not be expected to calculate the exam mark for their pupils. It would be the responsibility of the State to issue marks by harvesting the results of previous exams and looking at national trends in recent years regarding the difference in results of mock exams and State exams. He proposed that each student be offered one from three options.

The State Examination Commission (SEC) would compare mock exam data with real exam data over the last three Leaving Certificates. This difference, based on correlation of all existing data, would then be added to either Option 1 or Option 2 as follows:

Option 1 - calculate the average mark from the student's internal exam scores during their fifth- and sixth-year journey. Add the Government mock-to-real average score to this average.

Option 2 - where available, use 2020 mock exam results. Add the Government mock-to-real average score to this mark.

Option 3 - it may be possible for individual students to choose to sit a Leaving Cert exam if they wish to do so, Covid-19 permitting.

"These choices need no prediction. This does not require teachers to pass judgments on their students or to predict their results. This model requires schools and SEC to gather the existing data, with inspectors validating the process," Mr Cregan said.

Each student would be awarded a grade that is fair and based on their work over the past two years, he added.

Sunday Independent