SF calls for fines for lobbying teachers over children’s Leaving Cert results

‘No penalty’ for parents in draft laws, which provide for withholding students’ results only

Sinn Féin’s Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire: ‘It is far from inconceivable that a parent or somebody connected to a student could canvass or lobby a teacher or a member of school staff on behalf of a student without the student’s knowledge.’ Photograph: Tom Honan

Sinn Féin’s Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire: ‘It is far from inconceivable that a parent or somebody connected to a student could canvass or lobby a teacher or a member of school staff on behalf of a student without the student’s knowledge.’ Photograph: Tom Honan

 

Parents who lobby teachers over students’ Leaving Cert results without their children’s knowledge will not face any penalty under proposed laws, it has been claimed.

After the Leaving Cert was badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic last year, students this year are being given the option between availing of accredited grades – based on their teachers’ estimates – and sitting the written exams next month, or both.

Under draft laws which will prohibit the canvassing of teachers and school staff over accredited grades, the sole penalty is the withholding of a students’ results.

However, Sinn Féin’s education spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said there is no penalty targeted at parents, or anyone connected to a student, who lobbies a teacher without the student’s knowledge.

“It is far from inconceivable that a parent or somebody connected to a student could canvass or lobby a teacher or a member of school staff on behalf of a student without the student’s knowledge,” he said.

“In such circumstances, I believe it would not be fair on students for the sanction to be the withholding of their grades, given the implications it has for their career and for their access to third-level education,” he said.

Mr Ó Laoghaire said a substantial fine for the person who is responsible for lobbying would be appropriate.

Pressure

Otherwise, there was a risk that teachers – especially those living in rural areas – could be at risk from pressure given that many go the same shops as students’ parents and may be involved in the same local sports teams.

“I believe there will not be many instances of canvassing... where there is, we need to ensure that those who are responsible for bad behaviour carry the burden of it,” he said.

In response, Minister for Education Norma Foley said the views of students will be sought in the event of any review following reports being made of canvassing.

She said if a student is unaware of canvassing, the candidate has the opportunity to make that case in their representations.

“The candidate enjoys the protection that, fundamentally, any decision following the review must be reasonably based on the information available to the review,” she told the Oireachtas.

However, she said the introduction of a fine could have “unintended consequences” and that the potential withholding of results provide a “severe and significant sanction.”

The process of compiling students’ accredited grades, meanwhile, is under way in secondary schools.

‘Subject alignment’

Teachers are reviewing students’ work ahead of “subject alignment” meetings with other teachers, aimed at finalising schools’ estimated percentage marks for their students. These are due to be submitted to the State Examinations Commission from June 3rd onwards.

Meanwhile, education authorities are considering plans to drop the accredited grades system in next year’s Leaving Cert and provide greater choice in the written exams.

At a meeting of the State Examinations Advisory Committee last week, stakeholders agreed that greater choice was needed to compensate for lost in-school tuition time due to school closures during the current academic year.

Sources said there is no appetite at this stage to run an accredited or calculated grades model again.