The traditional leaving cert exams must take place this year and there is “no justification” for offering additional options to students, teachers’ unions have said.
Opposition politicians have in recent weeks renewed calls for a hybrid model of examinations this year – a choice between exams and accredited grades – to account for the disruption caused by Covid-19.
However, in a statement on Monday, the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) said it would not support any options other than the traditional exams.
The recent contributions from politicians around the issue are “unhelpful and will inevitably lead to more uncertainty in school communities”, the union said.
“We are already receiving reports of students disengaging because of an expectation that they will not have to sit examinations. This is very damaging to the education system and to the prospects of those students.”
The TUI said schools have remained open throughout this academic year, despite the challenges of high levels of community infection with Covid-19 and isolation rules.
“The scheduling of orals and music practicals in the traditional Easter break has created additional tuition time that would not previously have been available, balancing somewhat the losses in time that students have experienced,” it added.
The standardisation process used for predicted grades over the past two years requires junior cycle data, however due to the pandemic, some of the current leaving cert students did not sit those exams.
“Advocates for a repeat of the emergency methods are therefore advocating for something that is either impossible or else will be radically changed and involve historical school data that would be hugely unfair for many students,” the TUI added.
The union said it will continue to engage with stakeholders, adding that further consideration could be given to extending the breadth of topics covered in papers or adjusting marking schemes to account for this year’s circumstances.
The Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) said it is committed to an “externally-assessed Leaving Certificate”, in line with students’ and teachers’ expectations.
“The preservation of Ireland’s high quality, fair, and independent State Exams system is vital,” he union said.
“Leaving Cert students are currently preparing for a variety of non-written examinations such as practicals and orals to take place in Spring, alongside their preparation for the written examinations in June.”
It added: “Speculation regarding previous one-off grading processes during the pandemic is unhelpful at this stage, particularly given that the data used for these processes is not available for all 2022 Leaving Cert students.”
Paul Crone, director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD), 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.
“A lot of them didn’t sit a junior cert, lost time last year and are losing time now due to isolation. Anything would be helpful, and we’re willing to sit down and engage with all of the stakeholders to see what’s possible.”
Secondary students also want additional choice in this year’s Leaving Cert exams to compensate for Covid-related disruption to school, according to the Irish Secondary Students’ Union (ISSU).
Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Sinn Féin’s education spokesman, is among those who has called for a hybrid approach. He believes students do want to sit exams, but believes giving them the hybrid option is the fairest way to do it due to the time they have missed as a result of the pandemic.
He acknowledged that a proportion of these students have not sat a junior cert, which would have an impact on the standardisation process, but said there should be “discussions” around the modality of the system, adding it is not an “insurmountable challenge”.
It remains Government policy to return to traditional written junior cycle and Leaving Cert exams this year, with additional choice of questions to take account of the disruption to learning.
It is intended that two sets of Leaving Cert exams will be run in the summer for students affected by Covid and other illnesses.