Archive for May 9, 2020

Leaving Off

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , , , on May 9, 2020 by telescoper

So yesterday the Government of Ireland announced that this year’s Leaving Certificate examinations will be cancelled. That decision seems to have surprised quite a few people but to me it looked inevitable once the Covid-19 Roadmap was published last Friday. If you recall these examinations would normally take place in June but this year had been initially been postponed to happen in late July and into August. Now they’re cancelled altogether.

Not many details are available about the scheme proposed to replace the examinations but it will be based on an assessment made by schoolteachers based on previous performance moderated in some way by the Department for Education & Skills, which has oversight of the process.

Most of the reaction I’ve seen on social media from students is that they’re delighted they won’t have to sit the examinations. Questions arise however about how fair the new system will be, especially given that it is being assembled at such short notice.

I note that the Government press release states that

Students will also retain the right to the sit the 2020 Leaving Certificate examinations at a date in the future when it is deemed safe for state examinations to be held.

The Leaving Certificate isn’t just about entry into Third Level Education but it does raise specific issues for that sector. One is how many students who would potentially enter Higher Education in September will defer until they can take the Leaving Certificate proper. If many do that then the implications for University finances in the short term are significant.

Another issue is that Universities have been planning on the basis that because of the delayed Leaving Certificate, newly enrolled students would not be arriving until November. Now it looks like they will come in September along with the returning students, so we now need a Plan B.

On the face of it, it seems good news that we will no longer have the staggered academic year required in Plan B to contend with. On the other hand, if institutions have to operate with strict social distancing measures in place when they reopen, as is likely, the increased number of students in September will make this even more difficult – especially since first-year classes are the usually larger ones. I can’t see any way of coping unless a significant part of our teaching is done remotely. Recorded lectures and virtual tutorials look set to be part of the “new normal” for some time.

The decision to cancel the Leaving Certificate raises other questions but I don’t want to get into a discussion of the rights and wrongs of that decision (in which it seems Ireland’s universities had very little influence) . All I will say – and I’m sure that I speak for all my colleagues at Maynooth University – is that we will do our utmost to operate the new admissions system in a way that is as fair as possible to potential students, and to deliver the best education we can with the resources available within whatever constraints we are under in September. Whatever we do won’t be perfect, but we’ll do our best.

Until then there is no need for students or staff to get even more stressed than we are already, so I hereby invoke the calming influence of Maynooth University Library Cat.