Covid-19: 'Open the gates' approach to third level was dismissed over drop-out fears

An “open the gates” approach to third-level entry was considered as an alternative to this summer’s Leaving Cert.
Covid-19: 'Open the gates' approach to third level was dismissed over drop-out fears
The Leaving Cert was officially cancelled on May 8.
The Leaving Cert was officially cancelled on May 8.

An “open the gates” approach to third-level entry was considered as an alternative to this summer’s Leaving Cert, but the suggestion was dismissed over concerns it would lead to "significant" drop-outs.

Matriculation exams and SAT admissions tests were also considered as alternative routes to third level this year.

However, these suggestions were ultimately vetoed due to logistical difficulties, and because no other proposal would be as “efficient” and “fair” as calculated grades.

Exams would become “more and more inequitable” the longer schools are closed, according to official Department of Education records.

The running of the exams was not possible as the risk of harm to students and supervisors was "too great."

If we had been able to open schools earlier, we might have been able to run the exams but not possible...Realities are staring all of us in the face.

The details are included in the official minutes of the advisory group set up for the contingency planning for the 2020 State exams.

This group, including representatives of students, teachers, parents, principals and school patrons, as well as officials from the Department of Education, met throughout April and May to discuss the implications of holding the exams during the pandemic.

Ahead of the official cancellation of the Leaving Cert, announced on May 8, the group met to discuss alternatives as there was a “general consequences” that the exams could not be held safely.

Schools would be able to respond to a calculated grade model, but universities should also be asked to look at a matriculation process, the minutes state.

However, while a number of alternatives for higher education entry were discussed with both the universities and the institutes of technologies, they all would share the same “logistical challenges” as holding the written exams.

That is according to the Higher Education Authority (HEA), a representative of which attended the meeting.

Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) could put in place their own admissions procedures, but these would pose similar challenges when it came to social distancing and health and safety.

“Moving the problem somewhere else does not answer the problem,” the minutes note.

If each institution ran its own matriculation exam, some students would have to sit three or four rounds of exams depending on their CAO preferences.

“This would be a great source of stress,” the minutes state.

“Some have suggested an 'open the gates' approach at third level. However, this would result in significant student non-completion rates during the first academic year.”

There had also been a “marked change” in queries to the teaching unions, with many teachers expressing “grave concerns” over the implications of running the exams.

“The lack of certainty is causing increased anxiety; student wellbeing must be taken seriously,” the minutes state, adding that the “level of anxiety out there is palpable.” The meeting was held on May 6, and Joe McHugh the Minister for Education attended.

The decision to cancel this summer's Leaving Cert exams was announced on May 8, after the Cabinet signed off on the proposals.

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