Further adjustments to Leaving Cert papers are on the table in discussions on the final shape of this year’s State exams.
More modifications to written papers and other exam components, such as practicals, were raised at a meeting of the State Exams Advisory Group, led by Education Minister Norma Foley, yesterday.
The minister is under pressure to rethink this year’s assessments because of Covid-related disruption to pupils, including recent high levels of student and teacher absences due to the highly infectious Omicron variant.
Yesterday’s meeting heard the views of all education stakeholders, and, starting today, the minister will engage separately with each group to tease out a solution.
Students, parents and Opposition parties are among those seeking a 2021-style hybrid assessment, where candidates had the choice of written exams and accredited grades, based on teachers’ estimated marks, or both.
The Irish Second Level Students’ Union (ISSU), the National Parents Council Post Primary (NPCPP) and the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) outlined to the meeting findings from surveys of their members showing strong support for more choice for this year’s candidates.
The minister, the State Examinations Commission (SEC) and teacher unions are among those who want a return to a traditional Leaving Cert.
The meeting was told that other countries are conducting traditional exams this year and that the public health advice was that June exams could be expected to run in normal, or near normal, conditions.
Apart from a desire to get back to normal, exam authorities say they cannot offer accredited grades because there are no Junior Cert exam results for a significant cohort of candidates. These are students who did not do transition year and were due to sit the cancelled 2020 exams. In the accredited grades process, Junior Cert results were one of the measures used to predict how a group of students might be expected to perform in the Leaving Cert.
Ms Foley, who described yesterday’s meeting as “positive and collaborative engagement”, said she was very aware of the disruption experienced by students who were due to sit State exams this year.
The Department of Education said it was agreed that members of the advisory group would reflect on the contributions made at the meeting, and engagement would continue between the minister and the stakeholders on a bilateral basis over the coming days.
Some changes to the 2022 exam papers were announced last year to reflect the disruption experienced by students, but the impact of the Omicron wave on student and teacher attendance raised new concerns.
Further modifications to written papers and other exam components could mean more choice in and between questions, and reducing the number of questions students have to tackle.
The possibilities will be examined in the upcoming bilateral discussions.
Progress made in these discussions will determine whether stakeholders can find a solution on the basis of further adjustments to the exams or whether the minister will still face demands for a non-exam option.
While much of the attention is on the Leaving Cert, the discussions will also consider what, if any, changes, need to be made to the Junior Cert.
A date for the next advisory group meeting will be set in the coming days.
The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) described yesterday’s meeting as “constructive”.
Meanwhile, 65,535 college hopefuls applied to the CAO ahead of the reduced-fee deadline – about 900 fewer than at the same time last year. It compared with 66,457 on the same day in 2021.
The standard CAO deadline is February 1, but, after yesterday, the application fee rises to €45. There is also provision for late entries and, last year, the final applications figure was a record 84,817.
The demand last year, combined with grade inflation linked to the hybrid model of Leaving Cert, led to unprecedented levels of competition, squeezing even the highest-achieving students out of their top choice.
It has fuelled concern among the class of 2022 that disappointed 2021 applicants will reapply and have an advantage in the points race and is among several issues weighing on the minds of Leaving Cert candidates pushing for a return a hybrid option.