A survey by the National Parents Council Post Primary (NPCPP) has found that almost three-quarters of parents (71pc) are against Education Minister Joe McHugh's plans to attempt to hold the Leaving Cert on July 29. Almost 20,000 parents of sixth-year students gave their view, and almost half those parents stated their reason for opposing the current plan was out of concern for their children's well-being.
hey believe it is being adversely affected by the postponement of the State exam and the proposal that students will physically sit it in exam halls around the country.
It's extraordinary that any government department would plough ahead with a plan that most parents feel is harming their children.
Noel Keenan, vice-president of the NPCPP, said it undertook the survey - which had to be extended due to the volume of replies - because the NPCPP was being inundated with calls and emails from worried parents. He said the kind of language being used by parents about their children's mental and physical health was deeply concerning.
And these parents are correct - the minister's plan is inherently unfair and, indeed, possibly unworkable.
On fairness - as the class of 2020 has missed almost three months of class-based teaching, they've had to switch to online lessons. Some schools have run an almost identical timetable of digital classes to the normal school day, some schools have no remote learning set up at all. So, while some kids are getting full learning support going into the Leaving Cert, others are getting none.
In addition, it's grossly unfair to the 51pc of mostly rural students who have inadequate broadband to engage with lessons, should they even be available. So, there's no level playing field this year for examinees.
In terms of workability, school principals have expressed reservations about some schools' ability to physically hold a socially distanced exam on their premises. And they're worried for the health and safety of students, teachers and invigilators in those circumstances.
They've also said that bringing pupils back into classrooms for two weeks beforehand will be an even bigger challenge in terms of social distancing, and the only possible way that might happen would be if class sizes were reduced by a factor of three. So, each student will actually end up with only about a third of that two weeks in actual class time.
And that's on top of the fact that for six of the eight weeks prior to the Leaving Cert, teachers will be on holidays. I've no problem with that - I'm sure they need them after all this stress. However, it's still incredible that students are expected to sit an exam having had no access whatsoever to teaching for the best part of two months.
So, we're acknowledging teachers are wrecked at the end of the school year and need a break - but no such break will be offered to the country's adolescents who are expected to soldier on in sixth year for 12 months. Or does the DES perhaps hope that teachers will make themselves available to their students during their annual leave? None of these things is fair to anyone involved.
And that's all aside from the fact that the current plan destroys third-level institutions' intake of Irish first years in September - their intake of overseas students having already collapsed, presumably also destroying much of their funding model. Simply put, this is a 'most worst', as opposed to a 'least worst', solution.
And we might still accept it - if there were no alternatives. But there are. Former school principals, like Barry O'Callaghan, pointed out clearly last week that estimated grades are entirely possible here (like in all the other countries that have adopted them for their 2020 school leavers). Indeed, at this stage they are fairer to all concerned than a written exam.
Leaving Cert students could absolutely be afforded a no detriment system of predicted grades, whereby any student who felt the estimated grade they were offered was unfair to them, could opt to sit the Leaving Cert if they wanted. But clearly it would be a smaller number than 60,000, which is all to the good.
The real question in all of this is how do parents and other stakeholders get the minister to cry halt? If parents recognise that this plan is not in their children's best interests and there are other fairer, workable plans out there - how to make a minister see sense?
Well, teachers could support these students and refuse to take part in it. But are there any options open to the 100,000 parents of the 60,000 students in the class of 2020?
Yes, there are. Firstly, this is a voting issue. A general election may well happen before the end of this year; if you don't like how your children are being treated, tell your local TD about it.
Secondly, you could get your child to apply to UCAS -the British university system. It's accepting applications for some courses up until June 30. Those applications are done by a system of estimated grades. If students here start to request estimated grades for that in numbers, it would make it increasingly ludicrous to suggest they can't be provided and used by our own system.
More radically, perhaps, the class of 2020 could consider boycotting this year's Leaving Cert. If enough families said they weren't going to put their child through an uncertain, unfair, unworkable exam that will mess up their college application, that they're being forced to sit without proper learning support, and that's very possibly detrimental to their physical and mental health, the minister would be forced to rethink.
There are many pressing issues to deal with during this pandemic and some may argue that the Leaving Cert is not one of them. But we can do the right thing or the wrong thing by these kids. I have no idea whose best interest the current plan is in - but it certainly isn't in theirs.