Teachers enter uncharted territory in grading Leaving Cert students
Indemnity concerns reflect wider uncertainty within school sector over what lies ahead
A teacher will only be able to use the indemnity in cases where they have performed in a professional, bona fide, manner in applying calculated grades.
The white-knuckle ride that is the Leaving Cert for the class of 2020 continues apace.
The Association of Secondary Teachers’ Ireland (ASTI)’s direction to members on Thursday evening not to engage in awarding students calculated grades had plunged the “Plan B” for the examinations into fresh uncertainty.
The union’s concerns focused on the strength of a legal indemnity for teachers in the event that they were sued by students or parents over their calculated grade.
Its legal advice was that teachers could, potentially, have been liable for up to a third of legal costs in the event of a case against them.
In the end, a series of clarifications from the department was enough to reassure the union that teachers would not be left defending legal actions on their own.
A key clarification centres on the fact that the Chief State Solicitor’s Office will act for the teacher in every instance in which the indemnity applies.
This means teachers will not have to engage their own personal legal advisers and incur associated costs.
A teacher will only be able to use the indemnity, however, in cases where they have performed in a professional, or bona fide, manner in relation to applying calculated grades.
So – however unlikely it may be – a negligent and underperforming teacher who has no record of student achievement over recent years might not be able to avail of the indemnity, for example.
The ASTI had been seeking a “100 per cent” indemnity, a point which some department sources took to mean an indemnity for all teachers under all circumstances.
Legal sources say this was never realistic on the basis that the State could never be seen to offer indemnity in cases where a person does not discharge their professional duties.
ASTI sources dispute this say the "100 per cent" related to cover for legal costs for members who do carry out their professional duties.
Department of Education sources were keen to point out the indemnity deal itself has not been changed or expanded.
Similarly, this is dispute by the ASTI which says a key element of the indemnity deal which could have led to legal costs for teacher was dropped at their behest.
Perhaps, it is no surprise there was a last-minute wobble by some in the teaching unions.
The indemnity concerns reflect wider uncertainty within the profession over what lies ahead.
The profession now enters uncharted territory as it begins the process of assigning grades for what may be the most important exam in the lives of most of the 61,000 candidates.
Teachers will be required to use their professional judgment and face an unprecedented level of responsibility in their role as assessors.
While a final obstacle seems to be cleared, there are still some unanswered questions around the grading process.
In particular, there is growing uncertainty about whether some students will be able to get a valid calculated grade.
These are students who are being home-schooled, some external candidates and those taking a subject outside their school without a tutor.
In the case of students studying subjects outside school, the school principal will be requested to get sufficient evidence from an external teacher on which to base an estimate for a calculated grade.
However, if they cannot get this evidence, the department will examine each student on a “case-by-case” basis. However, if the evidence is not available, a grade will not be issued.
Thousands of students take subjects outside school and it is uncertain how many of these have tutors or anyone who has been keeping records of their achievement.