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Any Leaving Cert replacement must be legally sound, Government warned

Ministers are to discuss the fate of the exams at Cabinet on Friday amid speculation they could be scrapped.

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Education Minster Joe McHugh (PA)

Education Minster Joe McHugh (PA)

Education Minster Joe McHugh (PA)

Any predictive grading system that potentially replaces the Leaving Cert must be legally sound, the Government has been warned.

Labour TD Aodhan O Riordain branded the uncertainty over the fate of the exams a “slow train wreck” amid speculation Education Minister Joe McHugh could recommend their cancellation at Cabinet on Friday.

The exams were originally put back from June to late July at the outset of the coronavirus emergency.

The scheduled July 29 start date remains in place despite the Government announcing last week that schools will not reopen until September.

Education authorities have since been trying to establish whether they could still be carried out in partially opened schools with social distancing in place.

Mr McHugh has been meeting stakeholders through the week to discuss all contingency options.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dail earlier on Thursday that if a decision is taken to cancel the exams a “fair alternative” must be put in place.

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Labour’s Aodhan O Riordain branded the Government’s handling of the Leaving Cert issue a ‘slow train wreck’ (Aoife Moore/PA)

Labour’s Aodhan O Riordain branded the Government’s handling of the Leaving Cert issue a ‘slow train wreck’ (Aoife Moore/PA)

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Labour’s Aodhan O Riordain branded the Government’s handling of the Leaving Cert issue a ‘slow train wreck’ (Aoife Moore/PA)

Mr O Riordain, Labour’s education spokesman, said if the exams are scrapped then the Government’s plan B must be of “sound standing”.

“I’ve been calling for a Plan B on the Leaving Cert for some time and this has been handled appalling so far, and the last thing we need tomorrow is Cabinet decision that causes further uncertainty,” he said.

“If predictive grading is the replacement Plan B we need assurance tomorrow that it is legally sound.”

He questioned whether new legislation will be required for a new grading system.

“In all of this, it is vitally important that a Leaving Certificate of sound standing is awarded to every student leaving secondary school this year,” he added.

He said he is concerned about “school profiling”, the impact on disadvantaged students and how issues around potential teacher bias towards their own students will be managed.

“The minister’s delays and failure to communicate clearly on this slow train wreck have already failed this year’s cohort of students,” he said.

“Tomorrow we need a crystal clear Plan B.”

There is no way of addressing concerns and preferences of every student but there are basic principles of equity which must be addressedFianna Fail leader Micheal Martin

Earlier, Mr Varadkar faced heavy criticism from opposition leaders over the handling of the exam arrangements during the Dail exchanges.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin hit out at the Government’s “lack of clarity and confusion”.

“Why have members of Government talked about starting the exams without any detail on how this can be accomplished?” he asked.

“There is no way of addressing concerns and preferences of every student but there are basic principles of equity which must be addressed.

“In recent days I have heard from many principals and teachers in many parts of the country about how certain students are not able to match others in terms of home-based learning.”

He added: “One principal told me that his best student has nothing more than a small smartphone to rely on.

“Other students have family members testing positive with obvious implications for their capacity to study, given the need for parents to self-isolate.

“Policy cannot be based on assuming that every student has a laptop, a room they can learn alone in and a school which has the resources that can learn online.

“I am genuinely surprised that there has been nothing published so far by the Government assessing what the teaching and learning environment has been for Leaving Certificate students in the past two months.”

PA