An advisory group on planning for the State exams is due to meet again in the coming days amid continued calls from students’ representatives for a hybrid Leaving Cert this year.
Minister for Education Norma Foley and the State Examinations Commission hosted a 2½-hour meeting of the advisory group on Thursday evening. The group includes student, teacher and school representatives.
In a statement afterwards, the Department of Education said the group had continued discussion of the arrangements for the 2022 State exams.
Several updates were received from advisory group members, including results from surveys of groups of stakeholders on their preferred way forward on arrangements for the exams.
The Department of Education said Ms Foley stated that she was “very aware” of the pandemic-related disruption experienced by students who are due to sit State exams this year, and that she was committed to continued engagement with all education stakeholders in the “short period ahead”.
It was agreed that members of the group would reflect on the contributions made and engagement will continue between the Minister and the stakeholders on a bilateral basis over the coming days.
A date for the next advisory group meeting will also be set in the coming days.
Separately, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said on Thursday that clarity will be provided to students on issues in question "in the very near future".
Taoiseach Micheál Martin indicated recently that the format of the exams is likely to be settled within the next fortnight or so.
The Irish Second-Level Students' Union and the National Parents Council Post Primary have produced survey results which indicate that most students and parents wish to have a hybrid option available for the Leaving Cert this year, with a choice of accredited grades and sitting the exams.
However, teachers’ unions have also produced research indicating that the preferred option of a majority of teachers is just to factor in additional choice into the State exams.
Some education partners have also warned about the consequences of further grade inflation if a hybrid Leaving Cert model is offered again. The limited capacity of the third-level system to once again deliver more places at third level in response to such a model has also been a matter of concern.
Teachers’ unions have been supporting the full return of State exams this year. The unions – who are opposed to assessing their students for State exams – argue that circumstances this year are radically different from the previous two years .
They say schools have remained open this year. Furthermore, they say that the absence of Junior Cert results for a large cohort of Leaving Cert students – whose schools do not have a transition-year programme – means teachers’ estimated grades could not be reliably standardised.
In a statement following the meeting on Thursday, the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) said it will continue to engage in the discussions. It described the meeting as "constructive".
Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) representatives added that it was agreed that engagement will continue between the Minister and the stakeholders.
Separately, latest Central Application Office (CAO) figures show there were 65,535 applications for college places by the close of the reduced-fee deadline on January 20th.
These figures are down slightly - 1.5 per cent - on the same period last year when 66,457 had applied.
The CAO normal application deadline for higher education courses is 5pm on Tuesday, February 1st.
Last year the number of CAO applicants climbed to a record high of 78,303 by February 1st, driven by a combination of increased overseas applications and mature students re-applying to college.
Applicants interested in applying for further education or apprenticeship courses have been advised to continue to apply through the traditional channels, and not through CAO.
A late application facility for the CAO will open on March 4th and closes on the May 1st at 5pm, however some restrictions apply, particularly in the case of mature applicants.
Head of Communications for CAO, Eileen Keleghan, said the process of obtaining a CAO application number is"really straight-forward" and those interested in applying should not put off starting an application.
"Applicants do not need to enter their courses in order to register, they are just required to supply their personal details, tick a box or boxes on the qualifications and assessments section, make a payment and create a password," she said.
She urged all mature applicants, applicants interested in restricted courses, and those applying for reduced points access schemes - known as Hear or Dare - to apply before the February 1st at 5pm in order to avoid restrictions.