Schools will do everything possible to support exam students
Leaving Certificate students need to have a detailed outline of what is planned
The decision to delay the Leaving Cert has given the students some certainty.
Minister for Education Joe McHugh’s recent announcement on the rescheduling of the State exams has given us amended timelines and a blueprint for schools that now allows those of us involved in education to plan for the next stage of our engagement with students at this problematic time.
Crucially, it also gives our Leaving Certificate students some certainty and charts a course through the summer and early autumn that allows progression through the exams and into higher education and career areas in as structured and normative a manner as we can manage.
It is understandable that many of our students may have been disappointed with the announcement. Over two years there has been a focus on an end-point to studies in June, and to have that changed at this juncture with the attendant complications of not being in school and not interacting with teachers and classmates in the normal manner is far from ideal.
Nonetheless, and as with all the societal challenges we are faced with at this time, we can do only what we consider to be best in the circumstances. In that context, the thrust of what is envisaged is twofold: to allow the examinations to take place in as similar a manner as possible to that which the students would have anticipated and prepared for; and that an integral fairness in marking and grading, which is seen as such a bulwark of our system, is maintained for this cohort of Leaving Certificate students.
Since our schools effectively closed in mid-March, the partners involved in education have been consistent in determining how to proceed. What is important is that continuity in teaching and learning and connection with the pupils is maintained. Albeit any contingency in this area is difficult because of its remote name and nature, our students and school communities have embraced the challenge they have been presented with in a laudable manner.
We know that what is happening is not perfect. For a variety of reasons, not all of our students have the capacity to manage the digital interaction with school that is necessary at present, and we know that we need to continue to work on strategies for those of our students who are especially disadvantaged or have special education needs.
But at a time when many countries in the world are struggling to do so, we have managed to maintain a productive connection with our students and to help support a societal cohesion that is so important for us all at this time. Our mission in school is not just the academic; we want to help, support and be present for our students in all manner of ways, and that is what we will do as we work through the practicalities of our recalibrated Leaving Certificate examination.
The amended timeline we are now dealing with means that Leaving Certificate students will have to refocus, and will especially need to take breaks in this Easter period and in the early summer. The two weeks engagement with teachers in school before the examinations start will facilitate the completion of course and project work that may be outstanding, and allow for appropriate direction and instruction prior to the start of the written exams.
Of course, there are logistical and other issues that still need to be addressed. There will be challenges for the system as we operate through summer, adopt HSE guidelines, prepare for the new school year, and determine how best to organise the postponed Junior Cycle school-based examination.
Ideally, we would have chapter and verse at this stage on all of these issues, but that is simply not possible, and we are in a position now whereby our Leaving Certificate students especially need, and deserve, to have the outline of what is planned. We will work to clarify matters in the coming weeks, and develop plans and contingencies for all that is to come.
What lies ahead will not be without challenge. But in the same way that our students and teachers and the leaders in our school communities have responded to what has been asked of them in the past number of weeks, we will do everything we can to support our Leaving Certificate students and to maintain the integrity of their examination experience. They deserve nothing less.
John Curtis is general secretary of the Joint Managerial Body (JMB), which advises and represents the almost 380 voluntary secondary schools in the State.