Clarification expected soon on State examinations

Senior officials have been meeting in recent weeks to examine contingency measures

One proposal under consideration is that results would be awarded based on predicted grades which could also take into account past-exam performance. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA

One proposal under consideration is that results would be awarded based on predicted grades which could also take into account past-exam performance. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA

 

Pupils preparing for State examinations this summer should find out by the end of the week whether the Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate will proceed as scheduled.

It is expected that Minister for Education Joe McHugh will provide clarity for students, parents and schools on Friday based on the most up-to-date public health advice.

Speaking on Wednesday, a senior official in the Department of the Taoiseach said that the National Public Health Emergency Team will meet at the end of the week and that clarity will be given then.

“The Minister for Education has said that Government is focused on running both State exams, the Junior and Leaving Cert,” said assistant secretary general Liz Canavan.

“The Minister has also said that he would prefer that these students get at least two weeks’ class time in school before they have to sit any exams . . . contingency plans are under consideration and all decisions will be based on public health advice and what happens in relation to current restrictions.”

The public health emergency meeting is due to consider whether current restrictions on movement in Ireland, due to end on Easter Sunday, will be extended by way of a formal recommendation.

Senior officials from the Department of Education and the State Examination Commission have been meeting recently to examine contingency measures in the event that exams have to be cancelled or rescheduled as a result of coronavirus, also known as Covid-19.

One proposal is that results would be awarded based on predicted grades which could also take into account past-exam performance.

A meeting took place last week between officials at the department and representatives of the Irish Second Level Students’ Union (ISSU) and it is understood further meetings are planned.

A recent online survey of 47,000 Junior and Leaving Cert students carried out by the ISSU found that 49 per cent of Leaving Cert students were in favour of cancelling the June exams and using their coursework to decide their final grades.

The second most preferred option was to proceed with exams in June while observing physical distancing.

While Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said last week that the Leaving and Junior Certificate would go ahead “by hook or by crook”, this year’s examinations have already been affected by the public health crisis.

Another option is to proceed with exams in June while observing physical distancing. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
Another option is to proceed with exams in June while observing physical distancing. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Oral and practical tests for both sets of exams were cancelled by Mr McHugh last month. But students who were due to take these tests will be awarded full marks in that portion of the exam.

Meanwhile, Trinity College Dublin on Wednesday announced measures intended to address problems faced by students as a consequence of the pandemic.

Students had sought a “no detriment” policy where their end-of-year result would be the same as or higher than their average mark during the year. An online petition calling for such a policy at TCD was signed by more than 4,000 people.

The college said it was aware of the request advanced by some students, but said it believes measures it was adopting offer the best way to offset the consequences of the pandemic “in a manner compatible with its progression and award regulations and assessment practices”.

The measures proposed by TCD will affect 11,000 Trinity students due to sit semester-two assessments.

They include options for students to defer their assessments until the end of the summer and students can also apply to resit any second-semester assessment to try and improve results. Trinity will also instruct boards of examiners to consider a student’s overall profile where final-year students pass but do not achieve the results they would have hoped for.

Dean of undergraduate studies Prof Kevin Mitchell said the college recognises “the unprecedented levels of stress that many students are under and the challenges they will face in completing these assessments to the best of their abilities”.

He added: “These additional measures will, we believe, provide a safety net for students affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The health and wellbeing of our students is paramount.”