The country’s largest secondary teachers union says it has “a number of serious concerns” over elements of the decision to postpone the Leaving Cert until late summer.
While the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) said it welcomed the decision in principle, it understood there is concern in the union over the length of the school year and the prospect of teachers being asked to return for two weeks or more in July to prepare students for the exams.
ASTI president Deirdre Mac Donald said teachers were “wholly committed to supporting their students at this time”, but the union said in a statement that it “has a number of serious concerns about elements of the announcement and will be seeking clarifications in relation to these”.
The Teachers’ Union of Ireland said it was also fully committed to supporting their students.
In relation to Mr McHugh’s request that teachers and schools facilitate the teaching of students in July, it said it will ask members to "engage in this process as a whole-school response to meet the needs of our students".
The executive committees of the two unions held video conferences on Friday evening to see how best to proceed.
In a joint-statement in advance of these meetings, the ASTI and TUI said they would work to serve the “best interests of students”.
“We fully understand the decision to defer the State examinations, and we welcome the fact that the Government is still focused on running the Leaving Certificate, given both its importance and the high level of public trust that it enjoys,” the joint statement read.
“We remain committed to serving the best interests of students, as evidenced by the wholehearted engagement of teachers with remote teaching and learning over recent weeks.
“We are conscious of the enormity of the challenges facing our society now, and we are appreciative of the work done by all concerned to meet these challenges.”
The co-operation of the two teachers’ unions will be crucial to the smooth running of the State exams.
However, the delay poses key unanswered questions for the unions over teachers’ working hours and whether enough teachers will be available to grade the exams if the marking process overlaps with the new academic year.
School management bodies also welcomed the decision to delay the exams and give students certainty.
“This brings certainty for students at this difficult time as they continue to prepare for their Leaving Certificate and Junior Cycle exams,” said the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools, Education and Training Boards Ireland, Joint Managerial Body and National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, in a joint statement.
“We would like to acknowledge the ongoing work of the students, teachers and management in our school communities in dealing with the unique and challenging circumstances we are presented with at this time in such a positive and productive manner.”
In light of the revised schedule, the organisations said, students should “take a complete break from their studies in this Easter period so that they can return refreshed and renewed to the learning process”.
There was a mixed reaction, meanwhile, from students who were due to sit the exams.
Last week a survey of almost 30,000 Leaving Cert students by the Irish Second Level Students’ Union (ISSU) found that almost half (49 per cent) wanted to cancel the exams and use already-completed coursework to decide their grades.
The least popular option was rescheduling exams to July or August (19 per cent).
Speaking in a personal capacity, Luke Casserly, the ISSU's secretary, said he was happy there was greater clarity but felt students had been ignored.
“It feels like we haven’t been listened to and our voices don’t matter. There are still so many uncertainties. How will this affect the CAO, what about students who want to do the UCAS track, people with learning difficulties will be disadvantaged. I think it’s going to have a really bad effect on some students,” he said.
Groups representing universities and the institutes of technology confirmed that the changes will impact on the academic year for incoming first years.
The Irish Universities’ Association said its members will work with the CAO and other stakeholders to ensure that new university students can begin their studies as soon as possible after the publication of the 2020 Leaving Certificate results.
“This work and all planning for the 2020-21 academic year will continue to be guided by the latest public health advice,” the association said,
The Technological Higher Education Association also said it will work with the CAO and the State Examinations Commission to facilitate the changes.
While groups have declined to say when the new academic year is likely to begin for first-year students, third-level sources say they are prepared to delay admission for up to October or November if required.
* This article was amended on 11/04/2020