Teachers are willing to return to the classroom where possible to meet students ahead of the postponed Leaving Cert exams in July or August, the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI) has confirmed.
ASTI said it will support Education Minister Joe McHugh’s decision to postpone the Leaving Cert exams, notwithstanding a number of serious concerns.
These concerns revolve mainly around ensuring fairness for students, as well as the logistics associated with the practical exams.
The union’s stance followed extensive consultation with members in the wake of the minister’s announcement last Friday, said Deirdre MacDonald, ASTI president.
“Second-level teachers have given us a strong message of overwhelming support for their students,” she said.
ASTI members indicated their willingness to be available where possible to help with student preparation and face-to-face engagement prior to the exams.
“We look forward to engaging constructively with the minister and the department,” said Ms McDonald. “We are very cognisant of the wellbeing implications posed by this pandemic to everyone, especially our students.”
Acknowledging the minister’s decision to cancel this year’s Junior Certificate exams in June, Ms MacDonald called on the minister to award a state certificate to all this year’s Junior Cycle candidates. This would be in recognition of their participation in and completion of the three years of Junior Cycle in June 2020.
She also acknowledged the efforts of teachers and students in continuing teaching and learning under the current circumstances.
Meanwhile, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) also asked members to engage in the process of returning to the classroom for two weeks ahead of the exams, even if it is during the holiday term. The union has members in approximately 350 post-primary, community, and comprehensive schools.
“The minister has stated that the hope is, public health advice permitting, that schools will reopen for a period of two weeks, so our position is in relation to this time period,” said a TUI spokesman.
The union is particularly concerned that efforts are put in place for students with underlying health issues, with special educational needs, or those who are already victims of educational disadvantage.
“What we are currently experiencing is unprecedented and, unfortunately, there are no perfect solutions to any of the challenges that our society faces,” said Seamus Lahart, president of the TUI.
“We are acutely aware of the stress that the situation is causing for students, particularly those due to sit the Leaving Certificate.
“However, we would like to reassure the families of those students who, for a variety of reasons, are in vulnerable situations at the moment that we will be working with the relevant bodies to ensure that every reasonable accommodation is made for them in terms of the rescheduled Leaving Certificate exams.”
Mr McHugh has committed to engaging comprehensively with unions in the coming weeks, and the union will do everything it can to address concerns of students and their families, he added.
“Teachers around the country are going above and beyond the call of duty to support their students at this challenging time, as has been demonstrated in recent weeks,” said Mr Lahart.
All plans for the postponed exams are subject to public health advice, said a spokesman for the Department of Education.
“The final arrangements will be determined by the SEC [State Examinations Commission] when they receive the latest advice in early June,” he said.