My Department is acutely aware of the challenges faced by students, teachers and families as a result of COVID-19. The pandemic has brought significant challenges to the education system, and I am acutely aware of the impacts that this has had on those students preparing to sit their final examinations. It is recognised that a flexible and agile approach is necessary in light of the continuing fast-moving environment linked to COVID-19.
The planning work underway in respect of the State Examinations in 2021 is being assisted by an Advisory Group of key stakeholders. The advisory group has been convened to advise Government on all of the various issues arising in relation to the holding of the 2021 examinations, including public health considerations and appropriate contingency measures. The advisory group includes representatives of students, parents, teachers, school leadership and management bodies, the State Examinations Commission, 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 has met on a number of occasions as has a subgroup formed to consider in greater depth issues relating to planning towards the 2021 examinations, including those identified by the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union in their recently published report on the 2021 State Examinations and return to school.
Following the most recent meeting of the subgroup, on Friday 5 February, I announced that I was inviting these education stakeholders to participate in intensive, confidential bilateral discussions with department officials to progress work on two distinct processes for Leaving Certificate 2021: planning for examinations and scoping out a corresponding measure, different to examinations that can also be offered to students. Discussions on Junior Cycle examinations will continue in these engagements.
My Department has indicated to the education partners that any corresponding process would need to include the following features:
- The State Examinations Commission running both the examinations and the corresponding process;
- Better provision for out-of-school learners in the corresponding process;
- Some cognisance of performance in “additional component” elements of examinations (coursework, orals, practicals, etc.); and
- Timely progression to higher and further education using either examinations or the outcome of any corresponding process.
All partners are committed to acting in the interests and wellbeing of students, who are at the heart of this process.