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'The Leaving Cert is important, but it is life that matters' - Education Minister officially cancels Leaving Cert 2020

  • CAO applicants to rely on predictive grading system
  • Four stage process for grading
  • Labour Party say move could spark legal challenges

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Education Minster Joe McHugh (PA)

Education Minster Joe McHugh (PA)

Education Minster Joe McHugh (PA)

Sweeping changes to this year’s Leaving Cert will see the roll out of a system where students are assessed based on grades awarded by their schools.

However, candidates who want to sit the traditional exams – and they have a legal right to do so - will also be facilitated at a later date.

That special sitting of the Leaving Cert will take place when it is considered safe to hold the exams, but it won’t be in time for college entry this year.

The exams scheduled for late July/August are definitely off and there will be no Leaving Cert fee for this year.

That means that CAO applicants will be relying on predictive grades as a basis for selection for a college place.

Arriving at calculated grades, also known as predictive grades, will be a four part process, involving both school-based and national standardisation.

Teachers will be asked to provide a professional judgement of each student's attainment, which will be subjected to a rigorous in-school alignment process to ensure fairness.

The Department of Education will finalise the grades for each student and results will be published as close as possible to the traditional date.

The four stages in the process are:

  • Teachers will give an estimated percentage mark of what they think a student would have achieved in the Leaving Cert and will also estimate the class ranking of each student.
  • Subject teachers in a school will review the estimated marks and rankings of students and a final mark/ranking will be decided.
  • The principal will review the estimated marks and rankings and sign off on behalf of the school – and may choose to send them back to teachers for further review.
  • Marks and rankings will be submitted for national standardisations by the Department of Education. They will be examined and may be adjusted using statistical methods to ensure a common national standard applied.

The State Examinations Commission (SEC) will not be involved as it does not have the legislative power to oversee this type of assessment.

The new special unit in the Department of Education was given formal approval by the Cabinet today.

Education Minister Joe McHugh announced the changes after a Cabinet meeting today.

He admitted he had “massive reservations” about introducing such a system and “there is no perfect solution to this”.

He also acknowledged that there were legal vulnerabilities around it but they had decided it was not safe in to go ahead with exams, both in terms of physical and mental health of students.

He said he had made every effort to run the 2020 Leaving Cert as “close as possible to the way the exams were originally intended to be held.”

Mr McHugh said he came to the conclusion with a heavy heart, but the wellbeing of students must come first. He said proceeding with the exams this summer would be unfair to students in all the circumstances.

“The Leaving Cert is important, but it is life that matters.”

Students will retain the right to appeal but this will centre on issues such as ensuring the school entered the correct data and cannot challenge the grade itself.

They will also retain the right to sit the exam in the future when it is deemed safe to do so.

Mr McHugh said that students would be contacted individual by their schools about assessment through predictive grading, and will not have to say if they also plan to sit the Leaving Cert.

He also gave an example of a student who, at the end of the process, was not happy with an estimated grade even in one subject and said that student could opt to sit the exams.

Based on a student survey published this week, 79pc of sixth years now support such an option, suggesting that a significant majority of the 61,000 candidates would take this route.

The radical departure from the norm comes against the backdrop of the challenge of conducting exams for 61,000 students while social distancing protocols and other public health restrictions are in place.

Even rescheduling the exams from early June to July 29, as initially proposed in response to the Covid-19 threat, offered no guarantee that they could go ahead safely.

The ongoing uncertainty had driven up student stress levels and forced the move this week to open up discussions on other options, including predictive grading.

The Labour Party has hit out at the use of predictive grading to assess Leaving Cert students due to the postponement of this year's State examinations amid the coronavirus crisis.

Its education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has said the move to calculated grades with the input of teachers and national standardisation will be open to legal challenge.

And he raised serious concerns if what he termed "appalling suggestion of school profiling" is to play a part in determining results.

Mr Ó Ríordáin said the move could result in legal challenges.

He said it's "clearly open to legal opinion as to whether this Leaving Certificate with a different grade system would actually have the same status as the Leaving Cert 2019."

Mr Ó Ríordáin said this has implications for access to An Garda Síochána or jobs in the public service.

He also raised concern if school profiling plays a part in determining results.

Mr Ó Ríordáin said that in such scenario an average student in a fee-paying or middle class school would have a better chance of getting better results than a high achieving student in a disadvantaged school.

"If we are to have that system, having within that school profiling is something we just cannot support," he said.

Mr Ó Ríodáin said Labour's preference was for the exams to go ahead but he admitted he didn't know if it would have been safe for this to happen in July.

Online Editors