Leaving Off

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.

5 Responses to “Leaving Off”

  1. Yes, I suppose it was a fair decision in the end. The press conference was a masterclass in getting the public onside; explaining the problem, explaining how the Minister overcame his own preference etc. I never thought the 2 weeks in-school tuition was a runner, but I hope those who choose to resit will be able to sit the exam in August, rather than 2021. But you’re right – there seemed to be no input from third level colleges into the process and it has huge implications for September

  2. James Dunlop Says:

    I remain a bit bemused, and disappointed by the decisions of governments in England, Scotland and Ireland to cancel final School exams. I guess it just reflects everyone’s incompetence on the testing front, because the kids themselves are essentially at zero risk from Covid-19, and an exam hall is about as socially distanced as school kids ever get. While its easy for some people to seem cheerful they don’t have to sit exams, I worry this will disadvantage people from poorer backgrounds, who are often less than forthcoming in the classroom, but then show what they can do in the exam hall.

    • telescoper Says:

      Students do sit apart during exams but they sit where they do for a couple of hours which increases the risk of infection. And of course there has to be somewhere for them to sit and staff to supervise them. But I agree that estimated grades systematically disadvantage significant numbers of students. My experience of admissions work is that schools that are used to the system (usually posher ones) tend to overestimate performance, while others underestimate. I always ignored predicted grades because I thought they were useless, but now they’re all there will be to go on.

    • Phillip Helbig Says:

      “the kids themselves are essentially at zero risk from Covid-19”

      Although there have been a few cases, it’s true that the risk to most children is very small. However, precisely because of that, they can carry the virus without knowing it and spread it to others. That is actually the main problem with this virus. The death rate is about the same as with normal seasonal influenza, but many more are dying (in some places, the death rate has more than doubled, i.e. more people are dying of COVID-19 than from all other causes combined) because many more are infected, and the main reason for that is that most people who have the virus are not at home in bed or in hospital, but out and about and in contact with others.

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