Leaving Cert plans in disarray as ASTI withdraws from talks with Department of Education

Minister for Education Norma Foley. Photo: Julien Behal Photography

Katherine Donnelly, Education Editor

Leaving Cert plans have been plunged into in chaos after the teachers’ union ASTI has announced it is withdrawing from discussions on the exams.

The union said the Leaving Cert 2021 proposal under discussion was “not viable”.

It wants a guarantee that the talks “will focus on Education Minister Norma Foleys stated objectives of planning for examinations and scoping out a corresponding measure”.

ASTI General Secretary Kieran Christie said it was “unacceptable that a plan is being developed that effectively see students preparing for two versions of a Leaving Cert, with Calculated Grades being the dominant option, and the Leaving Cert exams filling in assessment gaps.

“We entered a process in good faith to explore the position whereby if the Leaving Certificate or elements of it do not go ahead, a fair and credible choice or option would be available to students,” said Mr Christie.

“It is clear to us that the approach being developed would not provide the meaningful Leaving Certificate experience this cohort of students deserve.

“The process is being developed in a manner that would see the Leaving Certificate relegated to a secondary position with Calculated Grades the premier option. The lack of data this year would make the delivery of a credible Calculated Grades process extremely challenging.

“Given the widely accepted additional stress that students are currently experiencing, it is extraordinary that the only option being explored is that they would effectively prepare for two versions of a Leaving Certificate rather than one.

“We are calling for the Minister to re-establish the focus of the talks so that a meaningful Leaving Certificate experience is provided to this cohort of students, which they rightly deserve.”

He said ASTI will continue to engage constructively with the re-opening of schools process.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) is staying in the Leaving Cert talks.

It said it would continue to engage with the Department of Education “to achieve workable arrangements in relation to this year’s Leaving Certificate”.

TUI general secretary Michael Gillespie said they were “keenly aware of the need for clarity as a matter of urgency in relation to all assessment elements of the Leaving Certificate programmes, including the written examinations and the additional components of assessment.

“We are committed to allaying the anxiety currently being felt by students, their families and teachers.

“Resolution of key issues is critical for students, teachers and the integrity of the process.”

He said the union believed that “engagement in these intensive negotiations is the best means of ensuring that the views of teachers are central to this process and its outcomes.”

The Irish Second-Level Students’ Union (ISSU) said it was “shocked and disappointed”.

“This is a time when students need cooperation between all stakeholders. Students have been through a horrendous year and now may face an uphill battle in the months ahead - we need to show them compassion, we need to provide clarity, and the ISSU position remains that students deserve a choice.

The ISSU said the ASTI announcement had “caused stress, anxiety and worry to skyrocket amongst students. It is adding fear into an already high pressure situation, and the delivery of clarity for students has been further pushed out due to this breakdown in talks.”

The students’ organisation said the ASTI was the only member of the exams advisory group – which is made up of the education partners – which had not accede to ISSU request to engage with them in recent weeks.

ISSU president Rueban Murray said they had had “engagement outside the advisory group with all other stakeholders to discuss our mutual concerns. We will continue to seek a meeting with the ASTI following this announcement.”

Education Minister Norma Foley has invited both the ASTI and the TUI to separate meetings tomorrow.