State exams body ‘advancing preparations’ for Leaving Cert exams

Students' group says State exams cannot go ahead as plans due to Covid disruption

The State Examinations Commission (SEC) has confirmed that it is “advancing all preparations” for the 2022 Junior and Leaving Cert including oral and written exams.

Its statement comes as  Irish Second-Level Students' Union (ISSU) said on Tuesday that the State exams "cannot go ahead as planned" this year due to Covid-related disruption.

The ISSU said a move to proceed with the traditional exam would suggest a "complete disregard for students' best interests" on the basis that many students are missing school for Covid reasons.

The intervention is regarded by observers as significant development on a building issue, with Labour and Sinn Féin having already called for the reintroduction of last year's hybrid exam model, which gave students a choice between accredited grades and exams.

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However, the SEC said adjustments to the 2022 State exams - including more choice on the exam papers - were designed to reflect the loss of learning time students experienced and include contingency for future learning loss.

"They are intended to provide clarity, certainty and reassurance to students, their parents/guardians, teachers and schools about the format and structure of this year's examinations," it said.

An attempt to re-run last year's hybrid option may be impossible, according to an academic who formed part of an independent steering committee which oversaw the use of calculated grades in 2020.

The cancellation of Junior Cycle exams in 2020 means there is no objective data on the performance of thousands of Leaving Cert candidates who did not complete transition year.

This information was crucial to the standardisation process which helped ensure fairness and consistency in teacher-assessed marks used to generate students’ grades over the past two years.

Prof Michael O'Leary, of DCU's centre for assessment research, policy and practice in education, said estimation approaches have been used in international comparative studies on student achievement known as Pisa and Timss.

However, he said implementing this in a national standardisation for the Leaving Cert in 2022 “might be impossible” given that crucial data required to estimate Junior Cycle grades for large numbers of students who did not sit the exam would not be available to the SEC.

Emer Neville, ISSU president, said this year's cohort of exam students has been "very vocal about the disruption they are facing in and out of the classroom".

“There is no online tuition provided to those isolating, and students have missed class time throughout 2021 and 2020 as a result of school closures,” she said.

Paul Crone, director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, also 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.

The Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) and the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) have both said they will only support the traditional, externally-assessed exams.

The Department of Education said it is “ aware of the disruption” experienced by students who are due to take their Leaving Certificate examinations in 2022.

However, it said adjustments to the assessment arrangements for this year’s exams – including increased choice – were designed to take account of the disruption to learning last year, “as well as providing for some possible further disruption in 2021/22”.

“The Department will continue to engage with all partners in education on all matters relating to Leaving Certificate 2022,” it added.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times