The Leaving Cert is expected to run “as normal” in 2022, with the Department of Education currently considering potentially running oral exams around the Easter break again this academic year.
However, students want a break to rest and study before their final term, and this balance needs to be considered too, the Oireachtas education committee heard.
Officials from the Department of Education appeared on Tuesday as the committee continued its discussions on Leaving Cert reform. Dalton Tattan, assistant secretary-general, told the committee he did not think current sixth-year students had encountered the same level of disruption to their studies seen in 2020 and 2021. He also ruled out an early closing of schools ahead of Christmas.
The Department of Education has had conversations with public health officials regarding the Leaving Cert, he said.
“The approach to date has been to operate in terms of the various assessment pieces, that they would happen largely as normal.”
This would mean the Leaving Cert exams running, as well as the Junior Cert.
“Schools have obviously managed to stay open. We believe that they will continue to be open,” he said, adding that from January to March this year “that just didn’t happen” .
“We had to make various decisions obviously around that.”
Students need early communication in terms of the orals, mock exams, and their final exams, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Sinn Féin TD for Dublin South-Central said.
“I know last year and the previous year, there was additional stress on students about what type of exam they were facing into, and I think that's the biggest concern.”
Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Labour’s education spokesman, said there was a strong case to be made in making an early decision to roll out the same "hybrid model" in 2022 as there was in 2021, which involved both exams and assessed grades.
“The students who are undertaking this Leaving Cert have already missed a lot of in-class learning whether in fifth year, [and] they're going through a [teacher] substitution crisis at the moment."
Teachers are out "on a huge level", he added.
In response, Mr Tattan said adjustments had been made to this year's exams. Measures have also been introduced to help address the issues around sourcing substitute teachers, he added.
"We're not talking in terms of early closing before Christmas of schools, we're not talking about a deferred opening of schools after Christmas. We're expecting schools will run as normal up to Christmas week and will open again in early January. We don't have any particular reason at the moment to view that differently, and we are certainly not getting advice that would push us in a different direction."
While students have not been disrupted as much this year, many have been out because they’ve been designated as close contacts, said Fiona O’Loughlin, Fianna Fáil senator.
“Teachers have been out because of Covid as well. There has been disruption in their learning experience and I think that that has to be taken on board.”