By Jess Casey
Uncertainty continues on whether this year’s Leaving Cert exams will go ahead as expected in July as alternative assessments are officially brought to the table.
Wednesday went by without a decision made on contingency plans for the Leaving Cert as students, parents, teaching unions, principals, school patrons and other educational bodies met with the Department of Education.
Following the talks yesterday afternoon, teaching union leaders met last night to discuss some of the issues raised about this year's exams.
In a statement issued late last night the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland and the Teachers' Union of Ireland confirmed each union's executive committee met separately.
"The unions will continue to engage through the advisory group of stakeholders in relation to contingency arrangements for the State Examinations and will not be commenting further at this point."
"Teachers continue to support their students in these difficult and extraordinary times."
It is understood that holding the exams this year, while taking into account social distancing and public health advice for more than 60,000 students, poses as a logistical nightmare. Other potential challenges include supervising exams, timetabling and disruption.
Plans are underway for further discussions about the exams in the coming days. A spokesman for Education Minister Joe McHugh did not respond to a request for comment last night.
However, in a statement issued yesterday after talks at the Department of Education, Mr McHugh said the discussions will help make decisions on the Leaving Cert that "have students’ best interests at heart and that are guided at all times by the public health advice.”
The continued uncertainty around the exams comes as a survey of Leaving Cert students found that almost 80% would like to see the postponed exams cancelled and an alternative grading system used instead.
The most recent survey carried out by the Irish Second Level Students’ Union (ISSU) shows overwhelming support for the cancellation of the exams amongst the almost 24,000 students who took part.
Carried out between May 1 and May 5, almost eight-in-ten (78.6%) students said they favoured implementing a predicted grade model instead of the postponed exams.
Alternative assessment models continue to be discussed, the Department of Education said in a statement issued following the meeting.
Among the topics discussed included the practicalities of holding the exams while taking social distancing into account, along with other public health measures that may be required.
The ISSU said its latest survey shows a considerable increase in the number of students who are in favour of cancelling the exams since its last survey carried out between March and April.
Students need clarity on the logistics that will be involved with the postponed exams, and their health must be prioritised, the representative body added.
Students have also noticed a deterioration in their motivation to continue studying, and have pointed out the difficulties with sustaining this under such pressurised circumstances.
Earlier in the week, the National Parents Council Post-Primary (NPC-PP) called for clear alternatives and creative solutions to be made available for students.
Political pressure also continues for a decision on the exams. Thomas Byrne, Fianna Fail's education spokesman, has called for the cancellation of the exams. Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin has also indicated that he believes hosting the exams may not be consistent with public health advice.
Donnchadh Ó'Laoghaire, Sinn Féin's education spokesman, said the written exams should not go ahead if there is only a slim chance of them happening.
An ultimate decision on such contingency plans must be made as soon as possible, he added.