The normal timetable for the Leaving Cert exams will not operate this year, the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) has told its members.
With the schedule for the 2020 written exams to be confirmed at the beginning of June, the standard arrangements for the written exams will not be in place this year, according to the union.
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.
In an FAQ to its members, the ASTI said that the practicalities of the arrangements are being discussed with management bodies, unions and the Department of Education and Skills at the on-going discussions of the State Examinations working group.
The union confirmed its support for the decision by Joe McHugh, the Minister for Education, on the Leaving Cert exams, notwithstanding a number of serious concerns raised by teachers, the FAQ states. "Those serious concerns remain to be addressed."
Teachers’ concerns include ensuring equality for students as well as practical issues such as childcare. Teachers have also expressed their concerns around both the practical and project work associated with the Leaving Cert and how this component of the State exams will be handled.
Project work and coursework in a range of subjects due to take place in May has been rescheduled until the beginning of the written exams. Practical tests in Art, Engineering and Construction studies, and the oral and practical performance tests in the Leaving Certificate Applied programme, also due to take place in May, have also been rescheduled to this time.
Work has been continuing on contingency planning around the issues related to the Leaving Certificate, a spokesman for the Department of Education said.
"This detailed work is ongoing and a number of complex issues are being considered."
In advisory group has also been set up to meet regularly to discuss issues in relation to the Leaving Certificate, he added. "Planning for the examinations is still being discussed, including at this group."
Separately, education sources have raised some concerns that potential legal challenges could be taken this year over the decision to award students full marks in the orals and practical performance tests.
These components of the exams were cancelled in March, with students awarded full marks for this portion of the exam. The Department of Education and the SEC did not respond to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, almost one million teachers and education staff in Ireland and the UK are warning that prematurely reopening schools without caution could lead to a spike in Covid-19.
The ability to test, trace and isolate the virus should be a prerequisite for reopening schools, along with effective social distancing, strong hygiene routines, appropriate PPE, and ongoing risk assessments.
That is according to a letter by the heads of ten teacher trade unions here and in the UK, sent to Education Ministers in all five jurisdictions urging significant caution be taken before schools are opened again.
Here, it is expected students will begin to return to school on a phased basis in autumn, in the last phase of the Government’s exit plan.
Leaving Cert students discuss pressure hanging over them with exam uncertainty
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."
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?”