A lack of clear answers on what will happen during the Leaving Cert exams next year is leading to an 'unrelenting cycle' of over-assessment that will lead students to 'crash and burn'.
That’s the warning from Reuban Murray, president of the Irish Second-Level Students Union (ISSU), who addressed the Oireachtas education committee on Thursday.
Students are facing monthly, in some cases weekly, class tests as teachers worry that some form of backup will be needed in case calculated grades are to be used again in some form next year.
“These tests, once a way for students to improve their learning and critique themselves, now take on a whole new level of pressure and stress as students know many of these class tests may decide their exam results,” Reuban Murray said.
The Department of Education has indicated that it intends for the 2021 exams to run as close to the traditional exams as possible. Norma Foley, the Minister for Education, reconvened the State exams advisory group this week.
However, there’s been no concrete contingency plan communicated to schools, Mr Murray told the committee. Students, teachers, and parents all will need to know the plans in place for a range of different scenarios.
These include what happens if a student finds out they are a close contact during their exams, or if they contract Covid-19 before their oral exams or project deadlines.
A statement or a circular is also needed, he said, adding that it should say "clearly" not to over-assess students as it will result in burnout.
Also appearing before the committee on Thursday were Mai Fanning, president of the National Parents Council Post Primary (NPC-pp) and Áine Lynch, president of the National Parents Council Primary.
While surveys conducted by both organisations indicate that parents and children are for the most part happy with the return to school, some issues and concerns remain outstanding, the committee heard.
As well as increased anxiety, many post-primary students are experiencing physical difficulties in school due to Covid-19 restrictions, Mai Fanning said.
This includes carrying around a heavy schoolbag all day with no access to a locker and having to wear a mask all day.
Some parents have also expressed concerns around ventilation measures leading to cold classrooms, as well as a congregation around school gates, Áine Lynch said. Some parents have also expressed concerns around poor communication or around strict rules on socialising in the schoolyard.