The use of predictive grades to assess Leaving Cert students is on the agenda for a crunch meeting today as pressure mounts to abandon the traditional exams.
ducation Minister Joe McHugh will take part in the discussions with other education figures to explore the issues around the Leaving Certificate.
The ultimate decision on how best to assess 61,000 students in the Leaving Cert class of 2020 caught up in the fallout from a global pandemic is expected to be announced within a week.
Some weeks ago, Mr McHugh announced that, because of Covid-19, the Leaving Cert was being rescheduled for July 29 – but even that date was subject to public health advice.
And there is still no certainty about whether it would be feasible to start exams at the end of July involving the gathering of more than 61,000 students and supervisors in school halls around the country.
The National Parents Council Post Primary (NPCPP) said that the level of stress on students and parents “grows daily” and the timehas come to give certainty to candidates.
There was support from education stakeholders around the rescheduling of the exams to July 29 on the basis that, ultimately, it was the most familiar and fairest option.
But that consensus has started to crack in recent days.
One concern is the scale of the logistics involved in running the exams on a safe footing in an era of Covid-19, which will not have gone away by the end of July.
The other crucial factor is student wellbeing and mental health, with the ongoing uncertainty blamed for pushing up stress levels.
That is driving calls for a prompt decision.
Today's meeting of the Department of Education advisory group on the exams is the sixth such, but only the second attended by the minister.
There was no indication last night of the minister's thinking.
A spokesperson said work was continuing on contingency planning around the issues related to the Leaving Cert and that a number of complex issues were being considered.
Ahead of the meeting, the National Parents Council Post-Primary highlighted its concerns.
The council said the ongoing public health situation "creates predicaments which make it impossible to categorically state that exams will take place from July 29". It expressed concern about what it would take to ensure safety if seated exams went ahead.
The council said student wellbeing was a priority concern and that candidates continued to face uncertainty.
"The increasing level of stress and pressures on Leaving Certificate students and their families grows daily and is unacceptable," it stated.
Another worry is equity and the NPCPP pointed to what it described as the "clear disparity between facilities and support for Leaving Certificate students across the country".
The parents' body said it was "now very obvious that students and parents alike need clarity and prompt action regarding the Leaving Certificate Examinations and clear alternative options to be made available to them". The NPCPP said "considerations and decisions regarding the Leaving Cert must be cognisant of the unparalleled situation in which Covid-19 has placed us, as a nation".
"Extraordinary creative solutions are now required from all involved in education. Plans must be put in place which take account of the extraordinary conditions under which our students face their final senior cycle assessment," it said, adding that a number of possible options had been put forward by themselves, the Irish Second-Level Students' Union and others.
It said "one solution cannot and will not offer fairness and equity to all students" and it favoured the use of estimated grades based on a student's track record, with the fallback of traditional exams for those who wanted to sit them.
Speaking on RTÉ's 'Prime Time' last night, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said holding the Leaving Cert at the end of July "is not consistent with public health advice".
The Department of Education advisory group, which is made up of stakeholders representing interests such as parents, teachers, school managers and students, last met on Friday, when it discussed the practicalities of holding the exams, given the constraints of social distancing and other requirements that may be necessary on foot of public health advice.
There were also discussions on the challenges in providing two weeks of schooling prior to the exams.