Leaving Cert plan in doubt as teachers’ union tells members not to co-operate

ASTI says proposal to indemnify teachers against legal action is not strong enough

The new calculated grades system is being set up following the cancellation of Leaving Cert exams on public health grounds due to Covid-19. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

The new calculated grades system is being set up following the cancellation of Leaving Cert exams on public health grounds due to Covid-19. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

Plans to award thousands of Leaving Cert students predicted grades have been thrown into doubt after the country’s biggest secondary teachers’union directed members not to engage with the process.

The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) said plans to indemnify teachers against legal action were not strong enough and could potentially lead to personal liabilities for second level teachers.

“This position is unacceptable,” the union said, in a statement. “We will continue to engage with the Department of Education and Skills to secure the necessary provisions.

“In the meantime, we are advising ASTI members not to undertake any work on the process until this issue is resolved.”

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) said, however, it was satisfied with the legal protections offered to teachers.

A spokesman for the department said it had provided additional clarification over the indemnity and was continuing to engage with the union.

“Minister McHugh recognises the importance of teachers carrying out work in relation to calculated grades on behalf of the department which is why he sought approval from Government to put a State indemnity scheme in place.

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.

Government sources say the indemnity is of a similar standard to that provided to civil servants or members of the judiciary for administrative roles.

The guidance also states that schools will be required to report any inappropriate canvassing over students’ estimated Leaving Cert grades to the Department of Education.

Students will have access to an online portal from early next week where they will be require to confirm if they wish to receive a calculated grade and the relevant level for a subject, such as higher, ordinary or foundation.

It contains advice on what information teachers should use to inform the school’s judgements about estimated marks.

There is also detailed guidance on how teachers can work together to ensure alignment of marks across students and classes in schools. This process will be over overseen by principals.

The rules around canvassing also set out how schools will be required to report instances of inappropriate contact to the department.

Following the Government decision earlier this month to cancel the summer Leaving Cert exams, more than 60,000 students are set to receive calculated grades for the first time based on teachers’ estimates.

Under this approach, teachers will be asked to provide an estimated percentage mark for each student for each subject. Students will also be placed in a rank for their class.

The guidance will state that teachers should draw on “existing records and available evidence” such as classwork, homework, class assessments, Christmas and summer exams and mock exams. Junior Cert results will not be considered.

Teachers will be required to provide a “fair, reasonable and carefully considered” judgement of the likely percentage mark each student would have achieved if they had sat their exams and completed coursework under normal conditions.

Marking system

In order to determine where students rank individually in a class, each student may be marked out of 1,000 and these scores will then be converted to percentages.

These grades will then be sent to the department where a unit will compare information on how students in the school have fared in particular subjects in the Leaving Cert over the past three years compared to the national standard.

Sources said teachers would be directed to declare conflicts of interest when grading Leaving Cert students who are close family members under official guidance to be issued shortly.

In such circumstances, another teacher in the school or the deputy principal may be asked to examine available evidence of a student’s performance and mark the candidate accordingly.

In cases where students who are studying a subject outside a recognised school, Minister for Education Joe McHugh has signalled that these students will be examined on a case-by-case basis.

A total of 2,858 external candidates are entered to sit the Leaving Cert this year, many of whom are studying in an alternative setting such as a private college.

For students in receipt of home tuition with an association to a recognised school, the guidance will provide information for school authorities to engage with the home tutor in arriving at a decision.

Whether a valid estimate of performance can be provided will depend on whether the home tutor is a registered teacher and where the school is satisfied with the evidence used to support the judgment.

In cases where a student has moved school recently and the length of time is such that the teacher considers that they do not have enough evidence to make a sound judgement, the guidance will state that the teacher should consult school management about acquiring additional information from the student’s previous school.