Teachers demand exam reprieve for bereaved students

The tiny number of Junior and Leaving Certificate students who are affected by family bereavements or serious illness should be allowed sit an alternative exam later in the summer, a teacher conference has heard.

Around six students suffer the stress of a parent or sibling dying just before or during the State exams in June each year, James Howley told the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) annual convention.

The east Mayo branch delegate said provisions state such students must sit exams at a special exam centre or a different time on the same day as other students, but they ignore the fact they might have two papers on the same day as a funeral.

“I know of one girl in my locality who had to sit her Leaving Certificate English paper at 8am and afterwards attend her own mother’s funeral,” he said.

His motion was passed almost unanimously by more than 400 union members. It sought to let such students sit repeat exams later in the summer or autumn, at a regionally designated exam centre.

The policy would also apply to those affected by serious illness or mental crisis in the period of exams.

Bernadette Fennessy of the Fermoy branch opposed the motion as she was concerned people would be able to use illness as an excuse to delay their exams. This, she suggested, would remove the level playing field the system provides for all students.

Mr Howley said the idea is that serious illness would have to be verified to the State Examinations Commission by the school principal and a doctor.

“It is not absolutely necessary that all students sit the exact same examination paper in order to ensure consistency and integrity in the exams. The contingency exam papers for each subject are already in place,” he said.

He suggested that if students sit a different exam paper four to six weeks later than classmates in July, the CSO could easily cope with a few late Leaving Certificate results to possibly assign college places in the third round of offers.

Earlier, ASTI education committee chairwoman Margaret Kent of the Fermoy branch highlighted the effects of cutbacks in schools on their ability to assist disadvantaged students.

“Less than 5% of students who took Leaving Certificate last year took the Leaving Certificate Applied. Schools are no longer able to offer it because they don’t have the teacher resources,” she said.

It means students do not get the training for work, or develop a relationship with local employers, said Ms Kent. 

“This is leading to a lack of progress and opportunity for our young students, to proceed to apprenticeships or to job training opportunities. It has made life very difficult for this cohort as they leave school.”


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