‘Too early to say’ if schools will fully reopen in September, Minister says

Joe McHugh denies new Leaving Cert system will see some students being unfairly graded

The ASTI says it has concerns relating to the professional integrity of teachers and school leaders. Photograph: iStock

The ASTI says it has concerns relating to the professional integrity of teachers and school leaders. Photograph: iStock

 

Minister for Education Joe McHugh has said it is “too early to say” if schools will fully reopen in September amid concerns about social distancing requirements because of Covid-19.

Mr McHugh said he has set up an advisory group to examine the issue and that the group will “work towards opening the schools”.

“I am going to work with the advisory group that I have set up and that work is going to continue. We are going to work with all the stakeholders and I have already started the conversation a number of weeks ago.

“With a lot of the stakeholders, whether it is post-primary or primary, we are going to work towards opening the schools because the NPHET [National Public Health Emergency Team] advice is that schools will reopen in September so the question is now how can we do that in a safe way and I think it is too early to say how that will look. But that is the job we have started and we will continue to work our way through it.”

He said he wanted a “proper consultation” on the issue.

Mr McHugh announced on Friday that the State exams will not go ahead this summer as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Instead, students will have the option of receiving grades calculated by their teachers based on their schoolwork or going on to sit written exams in late 2020 or early 2021, subject to public health advice.

Mr McHugh denied that the new system of calculating exam results will see some students being unfairly graded after the Labour Party raised concerns about school profiling.

“School profiling is nowhere within any of the guidelines. If there are students in Deis schools that have performed incredibly well and have worked hard over the last two years, that will be the result that they will be given by their whole school, not just the teacher and not just the principal but the whole-school evaluation,” Mr McHugh told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics.

“You could have a situation where once a principal sends off the results of any school whether it is a community school, a Deis school, a private school, where the system will look at some students maybe marked too harshly, some students could be marked leniently, there will be different evaluations. I want to categorically say that any student, just because they go to a certain school, that they will be marked any differently to anyone else is just not the case.”

ASTI

Meanwhile, the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) is advising its members to engage with the calculated grades process for this year’s Leaving Cert so that students can progress to the next stage of their lives.

The teachers’ union has a long-standing policy of teachers not assessing their students for the purpose of State certification. It says this policy ensures the integrity of the State exams process, the value of which it says “is infinitely superior to any other process”.

The union’s president Deirdre McDonald said the process outlined on Friday by Mr McHugh “is far from ideal. However, we will be striving to improve the process in order to deliver fairness, objectivity, and equity for all students and protect the professional integrity of teachers,” she said.

The ASTI says it has concerns over a number of issues including: the data to be relied upon by teachers in a calculated grades process; equity and perceived objectivity for students; and concerns relating to the professional integrity of teachers and school leaders.

On Saturday another of the country’s biggest teachers’ unions called for clear “safeguards” to prevent pressure being applied to teachers from parents over Leaving Cert calculated grades.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) called for “safeguards to ensure that the professional integrity of teachers is protected” under the new system.