Leaving Cert postponed with students to be offered option of calculated grades
Decision will be relief to students and parents after weeks of uncertainty
The Leaving Certificate has been postponed and students are to be offered the option of receiving calculated grades, Minister for Education Joe McHugh has announced.
The Cabinet approved the decision to offer students the option of sitting the exam at another date in the future, which sources say could be as early as November.
The decision was taken following an assessment of public health advice.
The announcement will be a relief to many of the 60,000 students who were due to sit the exams in June and their parents who have seeking certainty over the future of the exams since the Covid-19 lockdown began in March.
However, it has also sparked concern among students, educators and politicians over the transparency and fairness of providing students with calculated grades.
“We all know the Leaving Certificate can be a stressful time. Some students have parents working on the frontline, others are anxious about families and some are grieving,” Mr McHugh said at a press conference on Friday afternoon.
“I have made every effort to run the 2020 Leaving Certificate as close as possible to the way the examinations were originally intended to be held,” he said.
“My desire had been to allow students to undertake the written and practical examinations in July and August but I have compelling evidence, based on medical advice and other assessments, that the Leaving Certificate examinations cannot be held in a reliable and valid manner, nor in way that would be equitable for students.”
Mr McHugh said that there are “legal vulnerabilities” associated with the decision to postpone the Leaving Cert but he said the Department of Education is proceeding on the basis that it is not currently safe for students to sit the exam.
“There are vulnerabilities in this in terms of the legal advice we are getting because there is a legitimate expectation for students to sit the Leaving Certificate. We as a department have come to the conclusion that it is not safe and is not in the best interests of students in terms of their physical and mental health to hold those exams.
“It has been flagged that there will be an issue around legitimate expectation but one of the advices which was very clear advice is that if there is compelling health evidence saying that the Leaving Certificate can’t go ahead, yes we can set up this new model of calculated grades.
“The advice we were given is that we can set up an executive authority within the Department, it got the blessing today of Cabinet.
“The reality of the impact of Covid-19 has led to a decision that has never happened in our country before. I fully appreciate the magnitude of this issue for the students, for their families, for the teachers and for school principals.”
Mr McHugh said the decision was taken “with the best interests of the students at heart”and that he took the decision “with a heavy heart”.
Under the new plans, all exam fees which have been paid will be refunded. Teachers will be asked to provide a “professional judgement of each student’s attainment” which will be “subjected to a rigorous in-school alignment process to ensure fairness”.
The school principal will approve the estimated scores and the rankings of each student in each subject in the school.
A special unit is being established within the Department of Education to process to the data provided by each school and to “nationalise standardisation”.
The department will then finalise the grades for each student which will be issued to each student as close as possible to the traditional date.
Students will retain the right to appeal. Students may also sit the exam, potentially later in the year.
Mr McHugh said that he has a “responsibility to find a fair way to address the disadvantage that some students are facing and the impact a lack of time in school has had in recent weeks.”
“The decision has to be taken now to remove the anxiety that many students have been experiencing over how the expansion would look later in the summer,” the Minister said.