Government prepared to go ahead with Leaving Cert planning without ASTI support

Taoiseach pledges to ‘put students first’ in talks as virus threatens exams

The Government says it is determined to press ahead with planning for the Leaving Cert this year, with or without the agreement of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI).

Despite the union's decision to pull out of planning talks for the exams this week, a spokesman for Minister for Education Norma Foley said planning will continue this weekend as the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to disrupt the Leaving Cert for a second year.

The spokesman said Ms Foley was committed to providing “clarity and certainty” to students at the earliest possible time.

Hospital Report

Taoiseach Micheál Martin also pledged to “put students first” in Government talks with unions. “Students have to be the number one priority. They are going through a lot of anxiety and stress and strain right now,” he said. “And all parties to this issue must do what we can to alleviate that stress and that means clarity fairly soon.”

Draft plans

Under draft plans, all 60,000 Leaving Cert students would have the option to avail of calculated grades and complete written exams in June if they wished, according to well-placed sources. No agreement had been reached on how oral and practical exams might feed into this process.

The ASTI, however, said these plans were “unacceptable” on the basis that calculated grades would be the “dominant” option, with the Leaving Cert relegated to “filling in assessment gaps”.

Instead, the union appears to favour a model where exams are compulsory with a fallback option of calculated grades or where students are required to choose either calculated grades or exams.

ASTI officials met Ms Foley yesterday in a bid to find a resolution. Afterwards, the union said it would continue engagement but did not say it was prepared to re-enter planning discussions.

Government sources say a memo on the Leaving Cert, along with school reopening plans, is being prepared for discussion at Cabinet next Tuesday. It is likely to reflect the Coalition’s view that certainty must be provided for students.

Pressing ahead with Leaving Cert plans without ASTI support may place the union in an invidious position where teachers would have to choose between following the leadership or facilitating their students. However, there is a recognition within Government that securing the union’s support is the preferable option.

‘Awful situation’

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland, meanwhile, said it will continue to engage with the Department of Education over trying to secure the “best possible solution to what is an awful situation for students, families and teachers”.

It is understood to be more open to giving students a choice, but wants a number of key concerns to be addressed.

TUI general secretary Michael Gillespie said it wanted a "meaningful" Leaving Cert and a format to keep students engaged towards the end of the school year.

Separately, talks over the phased reopening of primary and secondary schools are set to get under way next week.

Government and union sources say March 1st is being examined as a potential date for reopening primary schools on a phased basis, subject to public-health advice. At second level, the ambition is for a phased return from late February or early March, beginning with sixth-year students.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) reported a further 23 deaths of Covid-19 patients on Friday, bringing to 3,865 the total number of Covid-related deaths in the pandemic. Nphet also reported 921 confirmed cases of the disease, bringing the total to 207,720.

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