Q&A: What is being planned for this year’s Leaving Cert?

Discussions focused on giving students option to avail of calculated grades and exams

Confidential talks have been taking place with teachers, students and school managers over planning for the format of Leaving Cert exams over the past week. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Confidential talks have been taking place with teachers, students and school managers over planning for the format of Leaving Cert exams over the past week. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

What is the status of talks over the Leaving Cert?

Confidential talks have been taking place with teachers, students and school managers over the past week to plan the format of Leaving Cert exams.

The aim was to produce the outline of assessment arrangements next week.

However, the Association of Secondary Teachers’ Ireland pulled out of talks on Thursday evening and the process is now plunged into uncertainty.

The union is meeting with the Minister for Education and her officials on Friday at 2.30pm for fresh exploratory talks aimed at resolving the impasse.

However, the union says it has not agreed to formally re-engage with the Leaving Cert planning process .

What was being planned?

The Government is understood to have been exploring a model where all students would be able to avail of calculated grades - and then choose to go on and sit Leaving Cert exams in June if they wished.

However, no agreement had been reached on this and how orals and practical exams might feed into this process.

Why did the ASTI pull out?

The ASTI said the latest plans were “unacceptable” on the basis that the Government was planning a model where calculated grades would be the “dominant” option, with the Leaving Cert relegated to “filling in assessment gaps”.

The union appears to want a system where students opt for just a single approach: calculated grades or exams .

By allowing students choice between both models, it says, students would be able to “pick and choose” between calculated grades and exams, which it feels would relegate the status of the written Leaving Cert exams.

Why is the ASTI so opposed to calculated grades?

It has a long-standing objection to teachers’ assessing their own students for the purposes of State exams.

While it co-operated with calculated grades last year, it says it did so on a one-off basis.

This year, it maintains that teachers have less material on which to base students’ estimated grades due to school closures.

It is also opposed to ranking students - which forms part of the calculated grades process - and allowing students to have access to his information.

It also says that by giving students a choice, it will make it difficult to manage a class where one set of students is preparing for calculated grades and another is preparing for exams.

What is the position of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland?

It said it is continuing to engage with the Department of Education with the aim of securing a solution.

While its preference is to hold Leaving Cert exams, it is understood to be more open to the idea of giving students a choice between calculated grades and exams.

However, it shares some concerns over issues such as the inconsistencies across schools over the quality of assessment data and the sensitivity of class rankings. Sources, however, are hopeful that a solution to these issues could be found to get TUI agreement.

Where does the Government stand?

The Government said this week that planning had officially begun for Leaving Cert exams and a “parallel” alternative assessment option which would not involve exams for students.

We know now that this involves a modified version of last year’s calculated grades model, which involved teachers assessing their own students and a national standardisation process.

Department of Education sources say they were taken aback by the ASTI’s decision to pull out of talks on Thursday on the basis that formal agreement had not been reached on a plan.

What is the status of oral and practical exams?

All parties acknowledged that the longer schools remain closed, the more difficult it will be hold these assessments in any normal way.

Most parties to the talks want them to go ahead given that they account for a significant proportion of marks, ranging from 20 to 50 per cent in many cases.

It is understood that talks had been at a stage of examining ways of facilitating these components, and how these outcomes would have fed into the calculated grades / Leaving Cert process.

How did the calculated grades system work out last year?

There are mixed views of how calculated grades worked last year.

While some individual schools and students feel they lost out under the process, at a system level it is widely seen has having been a success.

It involved teachers’ assessing their own pupils combined with a standardisation process aimed at securing consistency and fairness.

Broadly speaking, teachers’ estimated marks were less likely to be adjusted downwards in Deis or disadvantaged schools compared to others.

There is one school of thought that this may be influencing union views.

The TUI, broadly speaking, has a higher concentration of members in disadvantaged schools, whereas the ASTI membership is more heavily concentrated among voluntary (which includes the fee-paying sector) schools.

Where do Leaving Cert planning talks go from here?

A spokesman for Minister for Education Norma Foley said her department will continue to press ahead with planning for the Leaving Cert, with or without the ASTI’s involvement.

Teachers’ agreement will be vital to providing for a calculated grades system that can work.

If the ASTI does not formally re-enter talks and does not agree to the outcome, it will raise the question of whether its members will follow their union’s stance or facilitate the wishes of students.