State exams should proceed with modified papers, ASTI president says

Ministers and senior officials to meet on Monday for crucial talks on Leaving Cert

The president of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI), Ann Piggott, has said that their preference is that State exams should proceed this summer, with modified papers.

Ms Piggott told Newstalk Breakfast that modified papers would be fairer since students have missed so many days of school.

Modified papers would mean plenty of choice for students to omit certain areas of the curriculum and would not cause “too much anxiety.”

Ministers and senior officials will meet on Monday afternoon for crucial talks on the Leaving Certificate, efforts to restart classes for children with special educational needs and the likely timetable for reopening the State’s schools.

There was a growing expectation ahead of the Cabinet committee on education’s meeting that Leaving Cert students will be offered a choice between sitting their exams in June or being awarded calculated grades.

A final decision could be made at tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting, though sources said it could also be delayed until the end of the week.

While the traditional written exam would be the ASTI’s preference, Ms Piggott said, issues could arise if students got to choose between sitting the exam or getting predicted grades.

“The problem with a choice like that is there isn’t an equivalence in terms of a choice – they’re two very different paths.

“One would involve a grade being given to students, and from our perspective, we would be worried that if a grade is given, does that mean then that motivation is gone? That students would not remain at school in May?

“What would teachers do if they’re teaching for the Leaving Cert as well? If the choice is given, you will certainly have a huge cohort of students as well who will choose the traditional exam.

“That would make it very difficult for us.”

Ms Piggott said she hoped the country was weeks away from a phased return of children to schools. If the number of Covid-19 cases was to drop it would be a starting point.

“We would like to know that they would be safe in terms of new variants, we would like risk assessment, we would like contact tracing to continue. But certainly if the numbers are going down, our members are more than ready to go back to school.”

Until recently, Minister for Education Norma Foley said it was the Government's "firm intention" to press ahead with traditional exams. Now, however, the Department of Education is examining "possible alternative options".

Previously undisclosed records of contingency plans examined last year and interviews with key stakeholders this year throw fresh light on some of the options facing decision-makers.

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