The Teachers Union of Ireland has welcomed a move to allow Leaving Certificate grades to be withheld from students in the event of lobbying, a sanction already available in cases of suspected cheating.
Legislation being brought to Cabinet by Minister for Education Norma Foley on Tuesday will provide for the sanction where officials decide teachers have been lobbied to influence the accredited grades system.
Teachers are also to be indemnified by the State against any legal actions that emerge.
The ability to withhold grades is designed to prevent undue pressure on teachers from parents of students or others during the accredited grades process.
The legislation will extend the powers of the State Examinations Commission (SEC) to withhold results - the same sanction historically applied to anyone suspected to cheating in past exams.
If a teacher has concerns about conduct, they can report it to the SEC who will then consider the matter. If the grades are subsequently withheld, a student would be unable to apply for third level courses and would have to retake the exams.
Teachers’ representative bodies were briefed on the legislation last week.
On Monday, the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI), which called for measures on potential lobbying or canvassing last year, said that while generally respected by parents a legal footing was necessary.
“We believe it hugely important that a canvassing ban is put into legislation this year as not only will it reduce the pressure on individual teachers, but it will also ensure fairness for all students by protecting the integrity of the system,” the Union said.
General secretary Michael Gillespie said the power to withhold results in the accredited system simply put it on an equal footing with traditional exams.
“There is nothing new to this; it’s the same penalty as applies for the ordinary Leaving Certificate,” he said, although he welcomed it as a disincentive.
Mr Gillespie said that last year, when the system was first introduced during the pandemic, the majority of complaints related to non-urban parts of the country where teachers were made to feel “ignored or shunned” by parents who disagreed with awarded grades.
“The vast majority of people last year respected the process but obviously it was done in a far shorter space of time,” he said.
Mr Gillespie also welcomed the lack this year of a visible ranking system, whereby students could see how they fared in comparison to classmates.
Despite efforts to safeguard the accredited grades system this year, the vast majority of Leaving Certificate students are opting to sit written exam papers in June as well.
Earlier this year the Government decided to offer a choice between exams, accredited grades, or both, in individual subjects. Students will be credited with the highest result.
SEC data earlier this month showed 87 per cent of this year’s 60,000 candidates have chosen a combination of written exams and accredited grades. Just 6 per cent opted for accredited grades only.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Education confirmed the Education (Leaving Certificate) (Accredited Grades) Bill 2021 is scheduled to go before Cabinet on Tuesday.
“The Bill will provide for a system of accredited grades in respect of Leaving Certificate 2021 by conferring powers on the State Examinations Commission to run such a system,” she said.
“Preparations for Leaving Certificate 2021 are in train, with students having registered for examinations, accredited grades, or both. There is ongoing engagement with education partners. Initial guidance has been issued to schools in respect of the Accredited Grades process and further guidance will issue.”