The country’s largest teachers’ union is seeking legal advice over fears teachers could be sued due to the calculated grades they give this year’s Leaving Cert students.
There are also major concerns around schools reopening safely in September, given it was deemed unsafe for students to hold the Leaving Cert exams during July and August.
With the support of teachers crucial in now assigning grades for 61,000 students, both second-level teachers’ unions have agreed to engage with the Department of Education’s process of ‘calculated grades’.
This followed extensive talks following the momentous announcement last Friday that the Leaving Cert exams would not take place this summer.
But while the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI) and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) say they will support the new ’’calculated grades’’ system, both have concerns around the mechanisms of the assessment model.
* threat of legal action
* accusations of bias
* a protocol to protect teachers from any form of lobbying or canvassing
When asked if there are fears teachers could be exposed to legal challenges, ASTI president Deirdre Mac Donald said there is.
"We have huge issues that need to be addressed around that," she said.
"We are going to have our own legal experts on the case." The ASTI is also going to seek legal clarification from the Department of Education, she told RTÉ.
The union also wants assurances and protections in place so that teachers cannot be accused of biases. This would include using data that has already been recorded on a school’s system to formulate a student’s grade.
Today, the TUI will call on the Department of Education to introduce a protocol to protect teachers from any form of lobbying or canvassing.
"The professional integrity and independence of teachers must be protected," said Seamus Lahart, TUI president.
"They should not be subject to any undue pressure whatsoever in relation to their role." This protocol is also to the benefit of students, as favour one puts others at a disadvantage, he added.
The progression to further education or employment must be fair for all students, regardless of their socioeconomic background or the school they attend, Mr Lahart added.
"No student should be further disadvantaged as a result of the cancellation of the written examinations."
While both the TUI and the ASTI recognise the exceptional circumstances this year that has led to the cancellation of the Leaving Cert, both unions say they do not want to see a precedent set for the future.
There are also concerns around schools being in a position to reopen safely in September, Ms Mac Donald confirmed. Education Minister Joe McHugh said that work is now underway on that process.
The reopening of schools and colleges is set to take place in the last stage of the Government’s strategy to exit the current Covid-19 lockdown. They are expected to return on a phased basis.
Meanwhile, advice from the State Examinations Commission (SEC) on proceeding with the exams as planned in July shows a litany of logistical challenges. A presentation made by the SEC, a copy of which has been seen by the Irish Examiner, shows major issues arising from space, transport and timetables.
A maximum of ten students could have been seated in one classroom, and 40 in a PE hall.
There was also the possibility that students would have been required to wear face masks or visors and gloves during the exams. The advice also included the possibility of students having temperatures checked.
’’Military precision’’ would have been needed for queuing in and out of schools, and additional spaces would be required for managing students between exams and as they ate.
According to the SEC, schools would also have been required to supply thousands of supervisors with PPE.
No attendance would have been permitted by any students who were ill, showing symptoms, living with a family member who was ill, self-isolating or symptomatic, or who had been exposed to the virus.
Issues also arose around supervising the exams, sanitisation, and PPE which the SEC would have been obligated to give to supervisors. With just one exam timetabled a day, students would have been looking at receiving their results at the end of October, and appeals by December 2.