Junior Cert students ‘disengaged’ due to exam cancellation

Some 70% of secondary schools reported less pupil involvement during Covid-19 closures

Unless schools can make up for the disruption, the ESRI study says learning loss during the closures are expected to “ripple through students’ educational trajectories and into their later life”.

Unless schools can make up for the disruption, the ESRI study says learning loss during the closures are expected to “ripple through students’ educational trajectories and into their later life”.

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Many Junior Cert students disengaged from learning when they realised the State exams were likely to be cancelled, new research shows.

An analysis of school catchment areas and responses from more than 200 school leaders found there was a “polarising effect” arising from the cancellation of the Junior Cert exams last year due to the pandemic.

Students from homes where parents’ education levels were lower were more likely to have disengaged from school.

The study says this is important since evidence suggests that Junior Cycle experiences have a profound impact on learning trajectories through senior cycle and into post-school education and training.

This effect was not seen for Leaving Cert students, presumably reflecting the higher-stakes nature of the exams and the greater independence of learners.

The findings are contained in a paper by Economic and Social Research Institute researchers Gretta Mohan, Eamonn Carroll, Selina McCoy, Ciarán Mac Domhnaill and Georgiana Mihut.

Evidence was gathered from a nationally representative survey comprising one third of second-level school leaders, conducted during May-June 2020.

The Junior Cert exams have also been cancelled for 2021 and replaced by in-house school exams.

Influence of parents

Overall, more than three-quarters of school leaders who responded reported school engagement worsened during the closures period.

Reduced student engagement across the whole school was reported by 70 per cent of schools.

Further analysis indicates that overall attendance and engagement appears to be influenced by the educational level of parents.

The association between parental education and student engagement was stronger for Junior Cert students but was not statistically evidenced for Leaving Cert students.

Many third-year students who recognised early on that the Junior Cert exams were likely to be cancelled disengaged from learning “in part or in full” as a result.

While their cancellation was not formally announced until May 2020, there was speculation within education circles and in the media from March onwards that the exams would not go ahead.

Magnification of inequality

The study argues that unequal home-learning environments are likely to have magnified existing inequalities, especially those where there was less parental support and lack of access to devices, broadband or quiet study areas.

By contrast, the closure of school buildings most likely “strengthened the transmission of privilege” through the different resources available to different families to respond to the crisis.

Unless schools can make up for the disruption, the study says learning loss during the closures are expected to “ripple through students’ educational trajectories and into their later life”.

To prevent a return to the classroom with more polarised outcomes, it says it is imperative that policy, planning and investment strive to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on educational inequality

“What schools can do to make up for the Covid-19 education interruption is the most important question arising from this study. The evidence presented suggests that targeted supports within the classroom environment and efforts to make school a place where students want to be are vital in reducing the impact of educational disadvantage,” it states.

“Continuing and expanding these efforts should be central, both in the form of intensive short-term responses and more sustainable long-term developments.”

It adds that future policies need to address both enduring and new forms of inequality to promote learning for all students.

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