‘Plan B’ for Leaving Cert exams under active consideration
Officials looking at how to award grades if summer exams do not happen
A spokesman for the Department of Education said the Government was still planning to proceed with Leaving Cert exams on July 29th, subject to public health advice.
A contingency plan for awarding grades to Leaving Certificate students in the event that summer exams are cancelled is being actively examined by senior officials, according to well-placed sources.
It is understood that detailed planning for how a “plan B” could work has been stepped up in recent times with a focus on what role teachers might play in determining students’ grades in the absence of an exam.
A broad outline of the plans is likely to be discussed with education stakeholders later this week.
However, a spokesman for the Department of Education said the Government was still planning to proceed with Leaving Cert exams on July 29th, subject to public health advice.
“Planning for the Leaving Cert is still being discussed, including through the advisory group set up by the department involving education stakeholders. It is still hoped to bring just Leaving Cert students back in July, subject to adequate planning and public health advice,” the spokesman said.
The lack of a reference to the Leaving Cert exams in the Government’s roadmap for reopening society published on Friday prompted fresh uncertainty at the weekend over whether they would go ahead .
A department spokesman said this roadmap was a general guide rather than a detailed plan and no significance should be read into the fact that the exams were not referenced.
However, the document prompted Fianna Fáil at the weekend to call for the exams to be cancelled and replaced with a “fair alternative”.
Thomas Byrne TD, the party’s education spokesman, said the omission of the Leaving Cert in the Government’s roadmap was a “huge oversight” and added to the “already heightened anxiety among Leaving Cert students”.
“I believe the Government cannot continue to adopt this wait-and-see approach with the Leaving Cert. It is becoming clearer with every week that passes that it is simply not tenable for it to proceed,” he said.
Mr Byrne said he had discussed alternatives with some universities and with Minister for Education Joe McHugh, adding: “They do exist and we must now switch our focus to them. The current situation is unacceptable and unfair and is causing untold psychological damage to these students.”
On Sunday, Labour’s education spokesman Aodhán Ó Ríordáin criticised Fianna Fáil’s “knee-jerk” stance on calling for the cancellation of the Leaving Cert without providing viable alternatives.
“I have called on the Minister to outline a plan B, but what I am certain on is that predictive grading is not the right solution, as it would benefit the better-off,” he said.
He said such an alternative would disadvantage less well-off students who were already struggling with the digital divide and lack of resources.
“Anyone out calling for the cancellation of the Leaving Cert should be putting forward a credible alternative entry mechanism for third-level places. Such calls simply cause more mental stress and anguish for students, and add to the growing uncertainty about the Leaving Cert,” Mr Ó Ríordáin said.
“We are open to all alternatives that will protect the health and mental health of students, and will uphold the integrity of the exams process but playing to the gallery just adds further uncertainty.”
Mr McHugh has previously stated that using predicted or expected grades for students would be unfair as there was “too much inherent bias” in a system where teachers’ graded their own students.
He has also pointed out that students who miss out on courses by a small margin would feel especially aggrieved.
It is understood that any alternative may not be termed predictive or expected grades, but could still involve grades being applied to students.
For example, the State Examinations Commission operates a system called “assessed grades” in cases where some or all of a student’s work in not available for marking due to “unique, unforeseen and exceptional” circumstances.
The process involves requesting an estimate from the student’s school on the likely result the student would have received based on their prior coursework and their performance relative to other students.
A total of 148 students were awarded these assessed grades last year. The equivalent figure for 2018 was 116 students, with 116 in 2017 and 159 in 2016.