Q&A: Is the cancellation of Junior and Leaving Cert orals fair to students?

Ask Brian: Students will not be able to move from ordinary to higher to benefit from changes

All students will now get full marks in their oral and practical performance tests in response to the coronavirus threat. Is this a fair response ?
On balance I don't believe it is. Notwithstanding the huge problems confronting the State in dealing with the coronavirus crisis, in time it will pass, and schools will re-open.

This may not be for several months and quite possibly way beyond the proposed dates for the written components of this year’s Junior and Leaving Cert exams.

At that time, students should be able to re-engage with the schedule of assessments in their subjects on new dates – whenever that is.

By adopting the principle of giving every student the maximum marks in their orals, nobody suffers; the State certifies all students leaving the system as having successfully concluded their second-level education.


However, the problem arises in that the Leaving Certificates provided by the State to every student will not be worth the paper they are written on when it comes to those said same students seeking places in third-level and further education colleges in Ireland and abroad.

Given the intense competition for places on many such programmes, students will have to be provided with a fair and equitable assessment process to determine who is going to secure these sought-after places.

Giving everyone 100 per cent in components if they can’t be scheduled ignores the actual purpose for which most students work so hard.

By adopting the present strategy, if schools remain closed beyond June, the Department of Education, the State Examinations Commission and the Minister for Education could be accused of collectively washing their hands of the problem and leaving it to the third-level and further education system to figure out who will get what places when their institutions reopen.

Will students be able to opt for the higher-level paper on the day of the written exam to benefit from additional points?
No, the Minister has withdrawn the entitlements that students at Leaving Cert level have had to date to select the level of their choice on the day of the written exam.

All students can now only take the affected subjects they were registered for and at the level they indicated when they were asked to do so by their principals and deputy principals in January last.

Does this move mean that students across the board are going to have much higher grades than in previous years?
Yes, in those subjects which have oral components. If the policy announced to date were extended to the remaining components, due to the inability of the State to run written papers in June, then everyone would achieve 7 H1s across the board.

What impact are these changes likely to have on CAO points?
They will inevitably be higher due to today's decisions, but how high will depend on whether the other components of the exams can take place in a fair and equitable manner

My school isn't providing online classes but the Minister for Education says school buildings are available to staff if they wish to provide online classes. Is this correct?
I have personally passed many school buildings in recent days, which are clearly locked and devoid of all staff. Phone calls to schools are going to voicemail as secretarial staff are also absent in many if not all schools.

This situation cannot be blamed on school principals and their teaching and support staff.

The Minister, by announcing the closure of schools with three hours’ notice, has left many schools without a plan to engage all students and teachers in ongoing communications regarding work.

Many teachers with wifi connectivity and computers at home may be engaging with students online, but it is in no way universal throughout the country. We are, after all, connecting up to 500,000 homes to broadband over the next few years.

Today, there is no uniformity of support to our students working from home.

It would be very unfair to run the other components of this year’s exam without giving all students at least a month to six weeks back in school prior to any such assessment processes.

How will project work for subjects like history, geography, agricultural science, and so on, be affected?
Project and coursework completion deadlines are extended to Friday, May 15th for the following subjects:

Leaving Certificate: Computer science, PE, technology, art, agricultural science, agricultural economics, history, geography, religious education, politics and society, music, constructions studies and home economics.

Junior Cycle: Metalwork, materials technology wood, technology and religious education; and Junior Cycle assessment tasks in English, Irish, modern languages, science and business studies.

For the moment, the second phase of practical examinations remain as originally scheduled from Monday, April 27th to Friday, May 8th, as well as the final written examination in the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) scheduled for Wednesday, May 6th, a range of oral and practical tests in the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme, along with the first examination in Leaving Certificate Computer Science on Wednesday, May 27th, and the final written examinations commencing on June 3rd.

Brian Mooney is a guidance counsellor and former president of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors

Email queries to askbrian@irishtimes.com