Ombudsman calls for ‘urgent clarity’ on State examinations

Government should be ‘clear and honest’ with pupils over status of Junior and Leaving Cert exams

The Government is expected to give some indication on Friday on the status of both sets of State examinations. Photograph: Eric Luke

The Government is expected to give some indication on Friday on the status of both sets of State examinations. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

The Children’s Ombudsman has called for “urgent clarity” on plans for this year’s Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate examinations which are due to begin in under eight weeks’ time.

It is expected the Government will give some indication on Friday on the status of both sets of State examinations.

Dr Niall Muldoon said he was calling on the Government “to be clear and honest” with pupils about the status of the State examinations “as soon as possible” so that they can prepare for the outcome of whatever decision is made.

The ombudsman said that he appreciated the “difficult and unprecedented” situation that the Government and the Department of Education are in but said that students have been “left too long without answers” regarding the exams.

The ombudsman said there has been a “complete vacuum of information” which has left students “stressed, anxious and distracted” from their studies.

The question of whether the examinations would go ahead as originally scheduled has come increasingly into focus in recent weeks as the public health crisis has intensified as a result of the spread of coronavirus.

Cramped environments

“As recently as Wednesday of this week, the Government again advised young people to stay focused and to continue to study. This advice may be well intended but the reality is that many students cannot simply continue to study in the current circumstances.

“Many do not have access to the online classes and support being offered, some are living in cramped environments not suitable for study and others are helping to care for younger siblings while parents go out to work or, on Government orders, work from home,” he said.

Students “have the least power and influence” within the education system he said, and as a result of this, he said it is vital that their interests are “the foremost consideration” when the final decision is made.

The National Public Health Emergency Team is due to meet on Friday to consider the current restrictions in place to tackle coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, and it is anticipated that Minister for Education Joe McHugh will be in a position to provide clarity on the State exams once that meeting has concluded.

Speaking on Wednesday, a senior official in the Department of the Taoiseach said the Government was focused on running both State exams.

Decision

Assistant secretary general Liz Canavan said the Government acknowledged that students and their families “need clarity”.

However, students have been advised to continue with their studies ahead of any decision.

Dr Muldoon said he understood and supported the Minister’s view that students should spend at least two weeks back in school before exams begin.

“I support this view and would even encourage a longer period of time to give students a chance to make up for the two months they’ve lost and ensure that the full curriculum is covered by everyone,” he said.

Senior officials from the Department of Education and the State Examination Commission have been meeting with stakeholders to examine contingency measures in the event that exams have to be cancelled or rescheduled in light of the pandemic.

A number of possible options have been touted including deferral of the exams or the adoption of a predictive marking scoring system where results would be awarded based on grades to date.