Key meeting on shape of this year’s Leaving Cert to take place this week

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Katherine Donnelly

A key meeting on the shape of Leaving Cert 2022 will take place later this week as pressure grows to offer students a hybrid assessment option because of the disruption they have experienced.

The State Exams Advisory Group is expected to meet on Wednesday or Thursday to hear views of representative bodies and to consider the most appropriate arrangements.

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The group includes representatives of students, parents, teachers, principals school management bodies, the State Examinations Commission (SEC), the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, the Department of Further and Higher Education and the Department of Education, including the National Educational Psychological Service.

Students and principals are calling for a twin track approach to assessment similar to 2021, where candidates had the choice of exams, accredited grades based on teachers’ estimated marks, or both.

But there is opposition to such a move, including from the teacher unions.

It emerged today that Children’s Ombudsman Dr Niall Muldoon is involved in direct discussions with the various education stakeholders about what form the Leaving Cert should take.

Dr Muldoon has been a key advocate for students throughout the pandemic, highlighting the impact the disruption and uncertainty has on their wellbeing.

In April 2020, weeks after Covid hit, he called on the Government speed up a decision around the State exams saying that students had been left waiting too long. The exams were cancelled in May.

He has also been vocal on the effect of school closures on students.

The Ombudsman has been paying close attention to developments around this year’s Leaving Cert and “is engaging with a number of the education partners, including the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union (ISSU)”, his spokesperson said.

Over the coming days, Dr Muldoon will analyse the outcome of an ISSU survey, showing a strong preference for a hydrid option similar to 2021, and talk to student leaders about the results.

In 2021, candidates had a choice of sitting exams, receiving accredited grades, based on teachers’ marks, or both.

Almost 19,000 sixth years - about one in three of Leaving Cert candidates responded to the ISSU survey, and 68pc – more than two thirds – supported a hybrid model.

Second-level principals are also calling for a hybrid Leaving Cert and, this week, will release the results of the views of members on their preferred model.

National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) Director Paul Crone said students must have both an a exam and a non-exam option.

Labour education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said following on from the ISSU survey, planning must begin for a hybrid model.

The pressure for a twin-track Leaving Cert this year has grown as a result of the unprecedented level of student and teacher absence from schools due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant of Covid.

But the Department of Education and State Examinations Commission (SEC) have focussed on a return to a traditional exam-only Leaving Cert with some adjustments to papers to take account of disruption to students over the past two years.

Exam chiefs say accredited grades would not work this year because they do not have Junior Cert data to use as a benchmark for those of this year’s Leaving Cert candidates who were due to sit the cancelled exams in 2020.

The students involved are those who did not do Transition Year and represent about 25pc of Leaving Cert 2022 candidates.

Teacher unions are also strongly opposed to a hybrid option.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) has said the current circumstances were radically different from previous years and there was no justification for offering additional options, and that it would not support any other options.

The Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) general secretary Kieran Christie said today that further adjustments could be made to the exam papers to take account of the disruption to face to face teaching experienced by exam candidates

ISSU president Emer Neville said today that students who did not sit Junior Cycle exams in 2020 were issued with a State certificate by the Department of Education and Skills, which they were told had the same value as a traditional certificate.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin told the Late Late Show on Friday that a hybrid model “wasn’t being ruled out entirely” and said Education Minister Norma Foley was engaging with the education stakeholders.