The Irish Times view on postponing the Leaving Cert: Students must come first

Flexbility and compassion needed to ensure exam candidates are not disadvantaged

The very least we can do is to ensure that students’ health and safety is protected and that every candidate has the same chance to reach their full potential.

The very least we can do is to ensure that students’ health and safety is protected and that every candidate has the same chance to reach their full potential.

 

The Government’s decision to postpone the Leaving Cert until late summer brings much-needed clarity for anxious students, teachers and parents.

In these extraordinary times, it gives students a chance to complete exams they have been preparing for over the past two years in as normal a manner as possible. It also provides a route to progress to further and higher education while seeking to maintain the integrity of the examination process.

It is not ideal, of course. The extension will likely add to the level of stress and anxiety experienced by many candidates and will certainly prolong it. It also risks sharpening the digital divide between the haves and have-nots. There are also many unanswered questions such as when exactly the exams will happen; what public health measures will be in place to ensure they take place safely; and under what circumstances schools will reopen for students.

The class of 2020 is preparing under the kind of circumstances no other sixth year group has had to endure. It is all the more important, therefore, to ensure everything possible is done to support them over the coming weeks.

Disadvantaged students, in particular, need assistance to ensure their prospects are not damaged.

Imaginative thinking is required to provide all candidates with access to devices. Schools which are not in a position to offer online support must be enabled to do so urgently. Vulnerable students with underlying health issues and those with special educational needs must be assured that they can undertake exams in safe settings.

Many teachers are going the extra mile to provide continuity of education for their students. This kind of flexibility and compassion is essential. It is encouraging to see the leadership of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) show solidarity in this regard by asking members to do everything possible to meet the needs of students.

However, the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland’s (Asti) recent statement that “no teacher will be required to do anything” and that Department of Education proposals “cannot be enforced” is tone-deaf and self-serving. Teachers are entitled to seek clarity over how plans to reopen schools in advance of the Leaving Cert will operate. But it is crucial that the best interests of students are protected.

The education system, like so much of society, is in uncharted waters. There are no ideal solutions. But, however great the obstacles ahead, the very least we can do is to ensure that the health and safety of students is protected and that, in so far as possible, every candidate has an equal opportunity to reach their full potential.

Against this backdrop, the interests of students trump all other concerns.