The country’s biggest secondary teachers’ union has advised its members to engage in awarding calculated grades to Leaving Certificate students after a breakthrough in a row with the Department of Education over legal indemnity for teachers.
In a statement, the Association of Secondary Teachers’ Ireland (ASTI) said it had secured the “necessary clear assurances and clarifications” that would allow for teachers to proceed with this work without fear of negative financial consequences.
The union had claimed legal guarantees were not strong enough and there was a potential for teachers to bear legal costs should civil proceedings be taken against them arising from grading students.
The Department of Education provided a number of clarifications to the union over the scope of the indemnity during the course of Friday.
The row had plunged into doubt plans to award students calculated grades instead of written Leaving Cert exams over the summer.
However, the ASTI said on Friday afternoon that the department had given an undertaking that in all cases where the indemnity applied, the Chief State Solicitor’s Office would take over the running of the litigation.
It said this will ensure that a teacher will not have to employ a legal team and run the risk of incurring “large irrecoverable costs and expenses”.
“The ASTI is now in a position to advise its members to engage with the Calculated Grades for Leaving Certificate 2020 model,” it said. “Teachers can now proceed with the process and will apply the high professional standards it requires.”
Minister for Education Joe McHugh welcomed the fact that clarifications provided by the department had addressed the union's concerns.
He said the indemnity itself that had been offered had not been altered.
“My concern in establishing the model for calculated grades has always been the needs of the Leaving Certificate students who have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. We have always sought to put their interests at the heart of this,” he said.
"I am delighted to be able to reassure them that the process will move ahead speedily."
The ASTI's general secretary Kieran Christie said on Friday disputed aspects of the Minister's account and said a key aspect of the indemnity deal - which he said could have led to teachers being liable for legal costs - was dropped on foot of the union's demands.
Separately, the Department has confirmed that an online portal will be available from next Tuesday in which students may confirm that they wish to receive calculated grades and confirm the level at which they will take the exam in each subject.
Under department guidelines, the State indemnity will be provided to teachers if they end up being sued as an individual teacher in relation to a student’s grades.
This indemnity - signed off by the Cabinet on Thursday - will only be invoked where a teacher has “made every reasonable effort” to apply a grade in line with the department’s official guidelines for schools which was published on Thursday evening.
The ASTI’s stance over the scope of the legal indemnity had contrasted with that of the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) which said it was satisfied that the State indemnity offered teachers full legal protection. School management bodies were also happy with the terms of the State indemnity.
However, the ASTI said it had received legal advice that individual teachers could be liable for up to a third of costs in any potential legal action.
Parents’ representatives had called on the union and the department to resolve the issue as soon as possible.
Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, Paul Rolston of the National Parents Council Post Primary said: "Just do it, please."
“Our concern is the roller coaster that students have been on. All sides should come back to the table to resolve this,” Mr Rolston added.