The Irish Times view on the Leaving Cert: clarity for anxious students

The class of 2021 deserves greater choice and flexibility in light of a disrupted school year

By providing students with the option of a modified system of calculated grades and sitting written examinations in June, there should be greater equity and fairness for candidates. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

By providing students with the option of a modified system of calculated grades and sitting written examinations in June, there should be greater equity and fairness for candidates. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

 

More than 60,000 students finally have greater clarity and certainty over the format of this year’s Leaving Certificate examinations. The class of 2021 has had a torrid time. Students are in their fifth month of remote learning which, despite the best efforts of schools and teachers, is no match for classroom tuition. They deserve to have more choice and flexibility in light of disruption to their academic year.

By providing students with the option of a modified system of calculated grades and sitting written examinations in June, there should be greater equity and fairness for candidates. Students who have worked hard will get a chance to prove themselves in the exam hall; those who struggled to engage with online learning will not be unfairly penalised.

This is especially important for disadvantaged students. A study by the Economic and Social Research Institute, based on the experiences of schools during the last lockdown, found such pupils suffered the largest learning losses and were less likely to benefit from quiet study spaces, access to computers or decent internet connectivity. It is only fair that alternative assessment options are open to them, as well as those who may not be able to attend exams for health reasons.

The focus is now likely to switch to teachers’ unions whose buy-in will be crucial in delivering these plans. Teachers will have to provide estimated grades for their students and prepare them for examinations. There have been a number of key concessions to address union concerns over issues such as class ranking and use of data for assessment.

Although this should be enough to secure the cooperation of teacher unions and their members, nothing can be taken for granted based on the actions of the Association of Secondary Teachers’ Ireland (ASTI) last week. The union’s impetuous behaviour in withdrawing from talks over the format of the exams was foolhardy and self-defeating. Its decision only served to heighten students’ anxiety and to isolate the union in the face of criticism from all sides. It ultimately rejoined the talks without securing additional concessions other than those already on the table. Over many years, the union has been too focused on conflict rather than compromise. It has a mandate to deliver for its members but it has failed on many occasions to engage in constructive dialogue to help resolve challenges facing the education system. Now is not the time for self-serving and cavalier action.

Students need cooperation among all those involved in their education and the exams process. They have been through a tough year and face further challenges. By providing them with clarity – and compassion – they can be allowed to get on with preparing for the end of school and the next chapters of their lives.