A gap is opening between the Government and teacher unions over the Leaving Cert.
Strong Cabinet support for a changed format to assessing sixth years in 2021 is emerging ahead of a crucial meeting of its Education Committee today.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said they would like to “give options to students”, with a hybrid of calculated grades and exams a serious contender.
Another option would be calculated grades alone, although Mr Martin has acknowledged there is a will to hold some sort of written exams.
Student leaders have called for choice, and many parents also support a move away from reliance on the conventional exams.
But teacher unions made it clear today that they want to stick with the traditional exams.
Ahead of today’s crucial Cabinet sub committee meeting, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) reiterated its support for holding the exams, including components such as orals, practicals and projects.
TUI president Martin Marjoram said the union did not believe that a system of calculated grades or similar would reduce stress and anxiety.
He also expressed concerns about the lack of data on which teachers’ estimated marks could be based compared to last year’s process.
The union also has “significant concerns” about the feasibility of offering students a choice between calculated grades and a written examination.
Mr Marjoram said teaching and preparing a class split into those seeking a calculated grade and those preparing to do a Leaving Certificate exam would be extremely challenging in the time remaining.
The TUI has also stated that external moderation in any system - such as independent assessed papers - was essential in ensuring consistency and public trust.
Mr Marjoram said “we fully acknowledge the high levels of stress and anxiety in school communities, especially among those students who are due to take the state examinations this year.
“However, we are concerned that a premature decision could be made without full exploration of feasible options. We believe there are enormous difficulties attached to the proposal that the class of 2021 be offered a choice in terms how they wish to be assessed.
“We are reiterating our strong view that the fairest, most equitable option remains the holding of suitably modified and adapted Leaving Certificate examinations, which must take account of the second components of assessment such as orals, practical and project work.
He said it was a time for flexibility and “further consideration could be given to extending the breadth of topics covered in papers or adjusting marking schemes, and any other reasonable measures that might ease stress and anxiety among the class of 2021 should not be ruled out.”
Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) general secretary Kieran Christie told RTE’s News at One “once you stray away from the exams” the situation would be very tricky.
Earlier, ASTI president Ann Piggott, told Newstalk Breakfast that their preference was for "modified" Leaving Certificate papers, because students had missed for much face to face teaching.
"We would like modified papers to the point where it would be doable, it wouldn't cause too much anxiety, there would be plenty of choice for students to omit certain areas of the curriculum as they require".
"We would certainly favour the traditional, written exam - that would be our preference".
She said there would be problems if students were able to choose between sitting the exam or getting predicted grades.
"One would involve a grade being given to students, and from our perspective... we would be worried that if a grade is given, does that mean then that motivation is gone?
"What would teachers do if they're teaching for the Leaving Cert as well? If the choice is given, you will certainly have a huge cohort of students as well who will choose the traditional exam.
“So that would make it very difficult for us".