The Leaving Cert has been thrown into further disarray as the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) rejects the legal protection being offered to teachers to engage with the calculated grades process as falling “far short of what is required.”
The ASTI dropped the bombshell after the Attorney General and Cabinet signed off on a legal indemnity for teachers and schools in the event that a student challenges the grade they are awarded.
The indemnity emerged after weeks of discussions on the finer details of the calculated grades process - which is replacing the summer Leaving Cert exams this year - and the publication of guidelines for teachers .
While the other teachers’ union, the TUI has welcomed the indemnity and the safeguards it offers, the ASTI said it had taken legal advice and was told that it could potentially lead to personal liabilities for costs for second level teachers.
“This position is unacceptable” the union stated.
The ASTI said it would continue to engage with the Department of Education to secure the necessary provisions, but, in the meantime, was advising its members “not to undertake any work on the process until this issue is resolved.”
A Department of Education spokesperson said further clarification was being provided to the ASTI tonight.
The publication of the guidelines was intended to clear the way for teachers to take the first steps in a complicated process to arrive at calculated grades for each student in each subject, but the ASTI legal advice has thrown a spanner in the works.
Earlier, the Cabinet approved the indemnity to apply where an individual teacher, principal or board of management/Education Training Board is sued.
It will be conditional on their co-operation with the State in defending any legal cases that may arise if students are unhappy with their grades.
In order the get the protection, the person/board will have to show that they acted in good faith by making “every reasonable effort to carry out their role in accordance with the guidance provided”.
The use of calculated grades is unprecedented in Irish education and Education Minister Joe McHugh has admitted that it comes with legal vulnerabilities.
The indemnity, which has been signed off by the Attorney General, is covered in guidance on the calculated grades, published today after two weeks of detailed discussions.
The Guide for Schools on Providing Estimated Percentage Marks and Class Rank Orderings covers a wide range of issues, including that students can opt-in to the process, how teachers /principals should approach the marking and the consequences for parents or students who try to influence a grade.
Education Minister Joe McHugh said it was designed to give teachers and principals clear and precise guidance on how to provide the Department with an estimated mark and a class ranking for each Leaving Certificate student.
“At all times we have put fairness and the interests of the students at the heart of our decision making. The guidance is very clear and strict on the issue of canvassing of teachers and principals. Canvassing would be unfair to students and to staff in a school, and it will not be tolerated in any circumstances.”
Calculated grades will be produced for all students and they will be invited to opt-in to receive them, via an online portal. If they choose not to, they can sit the traditional exams, on a date yet to be determined, but unlikely to be earlier than November.
Any student who receives calculated grades and is not happy with the outcome, may also sit the traditional Leaving Cert, in one or more subjects, when it takes place.
There will be an appeal mechanism but that is limited to checking that all marks were correctly recorded and transmitted and students will not be able to challenge the grade that is ultimately awarded, in the way they can with the traditional Leaving Cert.
Calculated grades involve a four step process, starting with subject teachers awarding an estimated mark and class ranking for each student. That should be based on evidence such as Christmas and summer exams and their own professional judgement, including and what they think the student would achieve had they sat the exam in normal circumstances in June.
This will be discussed and signed off by a group of subject teachers in the school to ensure equity, and the results will go to the principal for review.
The principal will send the school’s final marks/rankings to the Department of Education, where they will go through a national standardisation process, which will deliver a calculated grade in each subject for each student.
When they have finished the estimated marking process and the relevant forms are filled and sent to principal, teachers are told to destroy their documentation securely.
Preserving the integrity of the process is key and the guidelines advise that any attempt to influence a student’s marks would be inappropriate .
Parents and students are told that they “must not under any circumstances contact, either formally or informally, directly or indirectly, a teacher or other member of staff at any stage to discuss or with a view to influencing the decision-making process relating to the estimated marks or ranking to be assigned to a student in any subject or which may confer an undue advantage to a particular student".
It warns against any inducements or gifts, financial , economic or personal, which might be perceived to compromise the teacher’s or school leader’s impartiality or independence in the decision-making process .
The guidance spells out to teachers and schools what they should do if approached by a student or parent or any other person and the first piece of advice is not to engage in any such conversations.
Teachers should tell the person that they are not permitted to discuss the student’s progress, mark, ranking or anticipated final grade and that any contact would not influence the decision-making.
If someone persists, the teacher must tell the person that they will make a formal record of the contact and pass it on to the school principal, who will have to inform the Department of Education that contact was made about the student.
Any such report to the principal must happen immediately, with a written record including the person’s names, student’s name, date and time of contact, how it was made – e.g. whether by phone or email – and contact details of the person if details were obtained.
As well as advising the Department, the principal will hold the record until after the completion of the appeals process associated with the calculated grades system.
If a report is made to the Department, it will request a written affirmation in respect of the marks and ranking assigned to the student that all procedures at school level were followed with the diligence and care, despite the alleged contact.
The Department will require this affirmation before the student’s marks and ranking will be processed for national standardisation.