It remains the governments firm intention to operate the conventional 2021 Leaving Certificate examinations, with appropriate public health measures in place. This view is shared by the State Examinations Commission (SEC), which has statutory responsibility for operational matters relating to the certificate examinations.
Planning for these examinations is underway by the SEC and the Department. It is recognised that a flexible and agile approach is necessary in light of the continuing fast-moving environment linked to Covid-19. This planning work is being assisted by an advisory group of key stakeholders which has recently been reconvened. The advisory group includes representatives of students, parents, teachers, school leadership and management bodies, the SEC, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, the Higher Education Authority and the Department of Education, including the National Educational Psychological Service.
The advisory group met on 25 November and on 14 December 2020, with a further meeting planned for this week. The advisory group will consider all of the various issues arising in relation to the holding of the 2021 examinations, including public health considerations and appropriate contingency measures.
My Department is acutely aware of the disruption caused to students as a result of school closures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic which led to the decision not to run the state examinations last summer, and the more recent decision of 7 January 2021 to close schools for up to three weeks from 11 January until 1 February.
From Monday 11 January 2021, all students, including Leaving Certificate students, are engaging in a programme of remote learning with their schools.
The public health restrictions which resulted in the closure of schools in March 2020 highlighted the absolute necessity for schools to be agile in providing for continuity of schooling in the future. As a contingency measure against the possibility of partial or full school closures, my Department has already provided a suite of guidance materials, agreed with the education partners, to enable schools to mediate the curriculum safely for all pupils/students in a Covid-19 context. These are available at www.gov.ie/backtoschool. This documentation has been complemented by Circular 0074/2020 (Communication/Teaching & Learning Platform) which requires all schools to have in place appropriate contingency measures to ensure that they are prepared to continue to support teaching and learning in the event of a partial or full closure of schools arising from Public Health advice.
Last August, I announced a series of changes that would be made to assessment arrangements for both Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate examinations for 2021. This announcement was accompanied by a published document detailing these changes, Assessment Arrangements for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate Examinations 2021, and forms part of the Roadmap for the Full Return to School. On 21 December 2020, the Department published an updated version of the publication which includes clarifications in relation to a number of subjects.
These arrangements are designed to take account of the disrupted learning experienced by students during the 2019/20 school year and to factor in for some further possible loss of learning time in the 2020/21 school year as a contingency measure. As the loss of learning through school closures affects students’ engagement with their course of study in different ways, the adjustments put in place play to students’ strengths by leaving intact the familiar overall structure of the examinations, while incorporating additional choice. The adjustments were arrived at through discussions between my Department, the State Examinations Commission (SEC), the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and key stakeholders.
These changes to the national assessment arrangements were made with due regard for the principles of equity, fairness and integrity, as these principles apply to assessment and examinations and refer to student-to-student, subject-to-subject, and year-to-year comparisons over time. The changes provide reassurance to students, their parents/guardians, teachers and schools.
In addition to the above the State Examinations Commission also advised schools in December of flexibility being provided for schools and students in the arrangements for the completion and authentication of coursework and that circular is available at www.examinations.ie/misc-doc/BI-EX-12232019.pdf. Further clarifications in this regard, on foot of the most recent school closure, will shortly be issued by the SEC.
The SEC has valuable learning from the experience of running the 2020 November state examinations, notwithstanding that the numbers taking these examinations were significantly lower than the number due to sit examinations in 2021. The measures relating to COVID-19 that were put in place for the November examinations will be considered as part of the planning for examinations in 2021.
Other documents published by my Department to support the return to school include ‘Guidance for Practical Subjects in Post-Primary Schools and Centres for Education’ and ‘Returning to school: Guidance on learning and school programmes for post primary school leaders and teachers’. These documents provide guidance for teachers and schools that is specific to each practical subject area, so that students can be facilitated to actively engage with their learning. All documentation published is available on www.gov.ie/backtoschool.