Parents are demanding that clear alternative plans to the Leaving Cert exams be made available to students given the additional demands and pressures they are under due to the pandemic.
Ahead of meetings today on contingency plans for the postponed state exams, expected to begin at the end of July, the National Parents Council Post-Primary (NPC-PP) is calling for clarity and prompt action.
The group, which represents parents and guardians nationwide, said in the absence of a confirmation that exams would take place, creative solutions were needed.
There is growing uncertainty and confusion about what form the exams might take, dates and conclusion times, with the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland
(ASTI) ruling out traditional timetables.
The lack of any clear plan is taking its toll on students, the NPC-PP has warned.
"The increasing level of stress and pressures on Leaving Certificate students and their families grows daily and is unacceptable.
"The disparity of facilities and support for Leaving Certificate students across the country is clear. One solution cannot and will not offer fairness and equity to all students."
With no quick end to the Covid-19 crisis, the NPC-PP said alternative plans were needed.
"This situation will continue in the coming months and creates predicaments which make it impossible to categorically state that exams will take place from 29th July as suggested."
"Students and parents continue to express concern and nervousness about assemblage involved to facilitate seated exams and are seeking alternative plans which take account of other potential scenarios and that will offer alternative routes to completion and a definitive conclusion date for students."
"Flexibility has been asked of and delivered by students in the final year of their post-primary education. They deserve flexibility in assessment for their Leaving Certificate exam in return."
All efforts and arrangements must also be put in place to ensure that no student is disadvantaged due to the inadequacies of alternatives to their normal schooling and educational supports, poor online access or socio-economic factors, says the NCP-PP.
A number of possible options and alternatives have been put forward for consideration by the NPC-PP and the Irish Second Level Students’’ Union (ISSU).
The Department of Education is also examining a possible Plan B.
The Leaving Cert was omitted from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’’s announcement on plans to exit the lockdown, prompting fresh worries among students.
He later confirmed that written exams are still planned to begin on July 29, and that sixth-year students are due to return to classrooms for two weeks of revision.
In recent days, political pressure has also increased, with Fianna Fáil, Solidarity/People Before Profit and the Social Democrats now calling for the exams to be cancelled. Sinn Féin and Labour have also called for more clarity on how the exams will operate this year.
Education Minister Joe McHugh is due to attend the State Exams advisory group today to review all scenarios relating to the Leaving Cert, his spokesman confirmed.
Further details in relation to the exams is due to be announced in the first week of June, depending on the health advice and assessment of the Covid-19 response, a spokesman for the Department of Education said.
"The Minister has also made it clear that he wants to see students get at least two weeks of class time, in school, before the Leaving Certificate examinations begin. That would also have to be based on health advice."
Plans for the exams are still being discussed, he added: "Meanwhile, work has been continuing on contingency planning around the issues related to the Leaving Certificate. This detailed work is ongoing and a number of complex issues are being considered."
Meanwhile, the ASTI has said the normal timetable for the Leaving Cert exams will not operate this year.
The revised timetable will ultimately be decided by the State Examinations Commission (SEC), and is expected to take into account the public health advice as well as concerns over deep-cleaning, it said.
Leaving Cert students speak about pressures of uncertainty
Alicia O’Sullivan, is a sixth year student at Skibbereen Community School, County Cork:
"The Leaving Cert is actually very rigid and it’s very, very standardised; Everything happens the same way, every year. But that’s been completely upended this year. One of the biggest worries students have is if it will be safe to hold exams come July. I know that they are considering how they will actually run the exams, how the timetable will look, things like that. But there’’s still that uncertainty in terms of it actually being safe for students.
"The idea that there’s going to be X amount of students crammed in a sweaty, clustered exam hall touching the same desks, biros and papers all day. That doesn’t seem very realistic to anyone. On top of that, there’’s people like myself who are immuno-compromised. Obviously we have our worries too, if it will be safe for us.
"I also have worries about the results, and how the CAO will work. I’ve applied to go abroad. It’s only one of my options, but it’’s one of my top options. I know there are a lot of people who have their hearts set on studying abroad. Due to the virus, nothing is fair, nothing will be completely fair, we do have to accept that circumstances are unprecedented.
"But I think what they’’ve done has just added more unfairness to it, and drawn it out. People are arguing that predicted grades are unfair, and yes, maybe that’s true. No-one is saying they are completely fair. But in my opinion, they’’ve just added problems by postponing the exams. Personally, I’d like to sit the exams but looking at it objectively — How is it going to be possible when the uncertainty is causing such problems for students?”
Charlie Murray is a sixth-year student at St Caimin’’s Community School in Shannon, County Clare:
“I don’t feel that postponing the exams was ever a solution but moreover, a temporary fix. If we aren’t able to do what we usually do during these unprecedented times, then we can’t be expected to do the very same Leaving Cert this year. There has to be something new in place. We cannot be expected to sit exams as normal and get the same results because this has put all of us at a disadvantage.
"I think postponing the exams has also created further problems down the line. For example, if you want to study abroad, if we postpone everything, that means when other countries are doing their recruiting for colleges, we don’t know if our results will be out.”
"With online teaching, since that’s at home, we’ve intertwined our school life with our home life. So with all this pressure, it feels like there’’s no escape. I find myself leaving my home more and more to try and escape it. Anytime I’m at home, the exams are constantly hanging over my head. The pressure and the stress is growing by the day and we’re constantly told to keep our heads down but realistically we can’t.
"We don’t know what we’’re working towards because we don’’t know what the exams will hold. With all the uncertainty, how can you work towards a goal that is unknown? It’’s causing us anxiety and stress and with that, we’re losing motivation. Without motivation, you can’’t retain information. So you could sit at your desk and read books and books for hours on end to try to study but if we’re not able to retain that information what’s the point?
There are countless students and teachers across the country who do not have the resources for proper online teaching. Are they going to be forgotten about? All this is just constantly building stress and it feels as if students are not being listened to."