Teachers’ unions have expressed their strong opposition to students being given a choice between exams and calculated grades in talks with the Department of Education.
An advisory group of education stakeholders held a meeting on Tuesday afternoon to discuss planning for the State exams which was attended by Minister for Education Norma Foley.
Sources said a number of options for assessing students were presented at the meeting.
They include delaying Leaving Cert exams until later in the summer; giving students calculated grades instead of exams; an “open access” model with additional college places; and versions of a “hybrid” model combining exams and calculated grades.
Politically, the latter option is seen by some Government Ministers as the most attractive on the basis that it has support from both student and parents’ groups, as well as Opposition political parties.
However, such a move would require the co-operation of unions, which have called for exams to go ahead.
The Teachers’ Union of Ireland and the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland both want modified exams with greater choice to proceed.
Sources say teachers’ representatives voiced major concerns at the advisory group meeting over the feasibility of any proposal which combines calculated grades and exams.
A key concern among teachers is that this would oblige them to rank their students in order across each subject. This proved controversial last year on the basis that students were able to access this information after they received their results.
Other issues raised by teachers include the reduced amount of coursework available on which to base calculated grades, along with challenges in teaching students who opt for calculated grades or exams.
Students, on the other hand, insist that a choice between exams and calculated grades is the fairest and most equitable solution.
Reuban Murray, president of the Irish Second Level Students' Union, said Leaving Cert students were under huge strain and a "compassionate" response was urgently needed.
“We need to work within the parameters of choice being given to students . . . We need to move to a point where we give students clarity and certainty.”
In a statement, a spokesman for the Department of Education confirmed that the advisory group on the exams explored a number of options for the Leaving Cert, “which sought to take account of the impact of school closures on allowing the examinations to be run in as close a manner as in a normal year”.
A further meeting of the subgroup is planned for later this week.
Sources said it is likely that firm proposals will be put before the Cabinet next Tuesday for consideration.
Separately, there are growing hopes that a phased reopening of all schools could see all pupils back in school by mid-March.
Special education is due to partially reopen to thousands of children from February 11th following agreement with school staff unions, while special classes in mainstream primary schools are due to reopen from February 22nd.
Sources involved in discussions said they believe primary schools will be in a position to reopen fully from early March.
Similarly, sources are optimistic that secondary schools will also begin to reopen on a phased basis from late February.
It is likely students with additional needs will be prioritised alongside exam year groups – such as Leaving Certs – followed by the remainder of secondary students.