Teaching unions back holding of traditional Leaving Cert exams

Teaching unions back holding of traditional Leaving Cert exams

While the Taoiseach said the 'preferred option' is a hybrid of calculated grades and a written exam, unions say students are better served by written exams. File Picture.

Leaving Cert exams still remain the “fairest option” for 2021, albeit with changes to make up for students’ lost class time, according to the country’s two second-level teachers’ unions.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland and the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland have both reiterated their preferences for holding the 2021 exams, including the orals, practicals, and projects.

This comes following the Irish Examiner’s exclusive interview with Taoiseach Micheál Martin, in which he said the ‘preferred option’ for 2021 is a combination of calculated grades and a written exam.

A recent survey carried out by the Irish Second-Level Students' Union (Issu) also suggested a strong preference for students to be given this choice. Sixth-year students have so far missed approximately four months of class time due to extended school closures because of ongoing lockdown restrictions.

“We fully acknowledge the high levels of stress and anxiety in school communities, especially among those students who are due to take the State examinations this year,” said TUI president Martin Marjoram. “However, we are concerned that a premature decision could be made without full exploration of feasible options.” 

The TUI believes there are “enormous difficulties” attached to the proposals that the class of 2021 be offered a choice in terms of how they wish to be assessed, he added.

The TUI is of the “strong view” that the fairest, most equitable option remains to hold “suitably modified” and adapted Leaving Cert exams. Any return to calculated grades would pose “extreme logistical and educational difficulties”, and there are concerns around the much smaller range of data on which to base estimate marks for students, he added.

Teaching and preparing a class split into those seeking a calculated grade and those preparing to do a Leaving Certificate exam would be extremely challenging in the time remaining, according to the TUI.

The ASTI has also reiterated its support for the traditional exams, but with changes to the exam papers.

“Our preference is for a Leaving Cert exam,” said ASTI president Ann Piggott. “Obviously, the exam couldn’t be as normal. 

There would have to be modifications to traditional papers, whereby students would have more choice to make it easier for them.

"They have missed a lot of time.” 

The union consulted with its subject representatives last week, she added.

“Our subject reps backed the idea of more choice, and are against calculated grades,” she said.

“If the Leaving Cert is not going ahead, then other options will have to be explored, but we might prefer different alternatives to the calculated grades model.” 

Calculated grades were introduced last year after the Leaving Cert exams were called off in May. During an interview with the Irish Examiner, Mr Martin said: "The hybrid model is one approach, the calculated grades is another."

"However, if you're closing that option of getting back into the classroom, then that puts pressure on the capacity to have the written exam.”

In a communication to SNAs, Fórsa said newly-agreed safety measures, together with declining community transmission of Covid-19, meant the reopening plan was as safe as it could possibly be.

Fórsa’s head of education, Andy Pike, said the union had set out to explore realistic measures to improve safety provision and re-build confidence in the safety of schools.

“SNAs and others working in with students with additional needs are more aware than most of the urgent need to begin the resumption of services." We have always thought this could, and should, be done in ways that underpin the safety of students, staff and the entire school community. We have achieved a solid path towards the resumption of these vital services in the shortest possible timeframe compatible with the safety of students and staff,” he said.

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