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Teachers fear for pupils in 2021 exams

Unions worry social distancing will make it impossible to deliver full learning experience


John MacGabhann: Difficult to teach entire curriculums. Photo: Tommy Clancy

John MacGabhann: Difficult to teach entire curriculums. Photo: Tommy Clancy

John MacGabhann: Difficult to teach entire curriculums. Photo: Tommy Clancy

Teachers are urging the Government to begin planning for the 2021 Leaving Cert, amid concern it will be difficult to teach full curriculums with social distancing and classroom limitations in place when children return to school.

Department officials are giving consideration to next year's Leaving Cert exams, and it is widely acknowledged that this year's fifth-class students already missed out on key learning time while schools have been shut and Covid-19 restrictions are in place.

"We are in the space of trying to work out how you can provide some sort of summer provision and what September will look like, but in all of the discussion we have had this year's fifth years are being considered and what has happened to them and the level they have reached in terms of the curriculum," a senior source said.

Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) general secretary John MacGabhann said it will be very difficult to teach full curriculums before next year's exams while Covid-19 measures are in place.

"Depending on what circumstances apply next year, as much guidance as possible needs to be provided early on so people are planning through the year with a particular set of circumstances in mind," he said.

These conditions would apply to how curriculums are taught and how exams will physically take place.

"What will eventually be done will depend on the evolving public health advice," Mr MacGabhann said. "There are certain things you can take as given, such as measures around cleaning, but the question of physical distancing and what it will involve materially affects the number of students who can be accommodated in a school at any given time.

"That of course has further repercussions in terms of the extent to which the full curriculum can reasonably be expected to be delivered."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has confirmed primary and secondary schools will reopen as soon as possible, with the end of August targeted.

However, schools expect to have to keep students and class groups apart to allow for social distancing. This means students may attend school only at outlined times or on specific days.

Officials are studying how a 'blended learning' approach, similar to the online models being adopted at third level, could be used to aid Leaving and Junior Cert students.

"That is clearly not the solution because it will only work in some circumstances and as part of a package of learning supports schools can provide," the source added.

It comes as anecdotal evidence shows a "small number of teachers" have been approached by people seeking to influence the decision-making process for individual estimated grades in this year's Leaving Cert.

Mr MacGabhann said he is aware of cases where teachers have been approached but insists new guidelines issued by the Department of Education have helped address the issue.

He said "you could count the number of cases on one hand" but a second teacher's union, the Asti, said it is also aware of anecdotal evidence of teachers being lobbied or approached about student grades. "We have not received any reports from members since the measures were announced," a union spokeswoman said.

The Department of Education said it will not be releasing details of the number of students who had an addendum to their record because of lobbying while the grading process is ongoing. Under the measures implemented to prevent lobbying, teachers are advised to state they are not permitted to discuss any aspect of a student's work.

If engagement persists, teachers must make a formal record of the contact and pass it to their school principal, who in turn will inform the Department of Education.

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