The State exams cannot go ahead as planned this year due to Covid-related disruption, the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union (ISSU) has said.
Under current plans, students sitting the 2022 State exams would see adjustments and more choice on their exam papers to account for the pandemic impact on education over the past two years.
There will also be two sets of Leaving Cert exams held during the summer to cater for those who are sick with Covid-19 or are in isolation.
However, the union representing second-level students has called the decision to proceed with traditional exams a “complete disregard for students’ best interests”.
Emer Neville, ISSU president, said this year's cohort of exam students has been "very vocal about the disruption they are facing in and out of the classroom".
“There is no online tuition provided to those isolating, and students have missed class time throughout 2021 and 2020 as a result of school closures,” she said.
“There is no way we can stand over assessing these students with the traditional Leaving Certificate. We are calling on the Minister of Education to take students’ voices into account and revise the decision about State exams for 2022.”
Jack McGinn, ISSU education officer, acknowledged concerns that some students in this Leaving Cert cohort have not completed a Junior Cert, as junior-cycle data has been used for standardisation of predicted grades over the past two years.
“However,” he said, “in light of the circumstances, we must put students first as it is their future that will be impacted.”
The union is surveying students on the matter, with provisional results showing a clear favour towards a hybrid model, which is a choice between predicted grades or sitting the exams.
The statement is a significant development on a building issue, with Labour and Sinn Féin having already called for the reintroduction of the hybrid model.
Paul Crone, director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, said there needs to be something additional to this year's exams to account for the Covid disruption.
“We don’t know exactly what that should look like, or what’s possible, but what we’re saying is we should put students first,” he said.
Deputy president of NUI Galway Prof Pól Ó Dochartaigh has said, however, that the hybrid Leaving Cert system created inequalities and he was in favour of students sitting traditional exams this year.
While he understood the pressures facing Leaving Cert students and sympathised with them, he said accredited grades had resulted in inflation, which pushed up points for courses.
Speaking on RTÉ radio's Morning Ireland, Prof Ó Dochartaigh said that six times as many students had achieved 600 points last year than in the previous two years, which had led to a lottery for the final places in university.
It was “intensely unfair” if some students received the results by putting themselves through the challenge of sitting the exam, but lost out because someone else’s teacher said they were very good, he added.
“I think what is deeply problematic is the idea that one student gets the same number of points as another student on the basis of two very different methodologies.”
An attempt should be made now to return to some sort of pre-2020 normality and the years 2020 and 2021 should be regarded as exceptional years because the alternative to that was to tell those who did the Leaving Cert prior to the pandemic that they would be permanently disadvantaged, Prof Ó Dochartaigh said.
He added that he was not opposed to reform of the Leaving Cert system, but that reform should be on the basis that the experience was the same for everyone.
The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) and the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) have both said they will only support the traditional, externally-assessed exams.
On Monday, TUI said there was “no justification” to offer students additional options as schools have remained open throughout this academic year.
The ASTI, meanwhile, said speculation on the use of previous one-off grading processes during the pandemic is “unhelpful”.
The Department of Education said it is “ aware of the disruption” experienced by students who are due to take their Leaving Certificate examinations in 2022.
“These are challenging times for all of society and it is acknowledged that the impact of the Omicron virus means that some students and teachers cannot currently attend school,” a spokesman added.
However, the Department said the adjustments to the assessment arrangements for the 2022 Leaving Cert – including increased choice – were designed to take account of the disruption to learning last year, “as well as providing for some possible further disruption in 2021/22”.
“The Department will continue to engage with all partners in education on all matters relating to Leaving Certificate 2022,” it added.