Secondary students want additional choice in this year’s Leaving Cert exams to compensate for Covid-related disruption to school.
The Irish Second Level Students’ Union (ISSU) said many students are missing class time on the basis that no online tuition is being made available for those isolating at home, or to fill in for teachers who are isolating.
"The disadvantages in their education are growing each day and nothing is being done to address the gap in tuition and rising inequality in our exam year students," said ISSU uachtarán Emer Neville.
While extra choice in questions is being factored into this year’s junior cycle and Leaving Cert exams, the ISSU said further changes were needed to account for the additional disruption students are facing.
The union has not yet called for a re-run of last year’s “hybrid” option of allowing students to choose between exams and accredited grades.
However, Ms Neville said the union is surveying its members on the matter this week and will await the results before reviewing its position.
The ISSU’s call this time last year for choice between exams and accredited grades was seen by many observers as a decisive moment in convincing the Government to run a hybrid Leaving Cert for the first time.
A number of political parties have already called for such a move, including Labour and Sinn Féin.
On Sunday, Fine Gael senator Regina Doherty also said sixth-year students were owed the same "compassionate" options as students in previous years.
“My office has received many emails from young people whose school lives – and as a result, their mental health – have been severely and negatively impacted by the unpredictability of the current climate.”
Róisín Shortall, co-leader of the Social Democrats, on Sunday said that a hybrid model of accredited grades and written exams would not be possible for this year’s Leaving Cert.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s This Week, she said that this year’s group of Leaving Cert students have had a particularly difficult time. “This is the third school year now impacted hugely by Covid.”
However, she said it was not as simple as rolling out last year’s hybrid model.
“In 2020, the Junior Cert was cancelled . . . [if students] did not do fourth year in school [transition year], they won’t have done the Junior Cert. So there isn’t actually an objective measure to accredit them with grades. It is different to last year.”
It remains Government policy to return to traditional written junior cycle and Leaving Cert exams this year, with additional choice of questions to take account of the disruption to learning.
It is intended that two sets of Leaving Cert exams will be run in the summer for students affected by Covid and other illnesses.
Meanwhile, the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) has advised its members not to agree to requests to substitute for absent teachers in school if they are teaching a timetabled class remotely.
The union said in a message to school stewards in recent days that it had become aware of this practice.
The ASTI’s position is not shared by the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), which supports prioritising in-school teaching, where possible.
Some education sources said the ASTI’s advice could have the potential to jeopardise in-school teaching in some schools if substitute teachers were not available to supervise classes.
However, ASTI general secretary Kieran Christie said the union was following a recent Department of Education information note which envisages that schools "implement emergency remote teaching and learning plans" for students requested to stay at home.
He said substitution provision should be utilised to deal with staff absences, as was set out in the department’s information note.