8 May 2020, Friday
By Bryan Smyth
The Leaving Certificate (or ‘Leaving Cert’) is a rite of passage on Ireland.
Wikipedia: A rite of passage is a ceremony or ritual of the passage which occurs when an individual leaves one group to enter another. It involves a significant change of status in society.
Yet the Leaving Cert is not merely symbolic, it also acts as the university matriculation examination (entrance exam). It takes place in June, just as the fine weather arrives, indeed the Leaving Cert is so ingrained in Irish society that a sunny day can be called “Leaving Cert Weather”.
Last evening Senior Government sources indicated that the Minister for Education Joe McHugh (a Donegal TD who has a Minister since October 2018 but for some reason is not a household name) will make a “recommendation” to Cabinet today to cancel the 2020 Leaving Certificate exams. A memo is expected to be brought to Cabinet this morning outlining possible alternatives to the traditional written exams.
Given that Ireland has been in a ‘lockdown’ (although officials have been careful not to use that term) since late March there had been much speculation over the fate of the Leaving Cert. Similar to Brexit it appeared first that it may never happen, then it appeared it would happen but later, now it appears it may not happen at all! The current stated position of the Department of Education is that the Leaving Cert will take place, albeit in late July (from the 29th onwards to be exact) rather than early June.
However, keen observers will have need that the Department of Education continued to hold “stakeholder engagement” meetings as recently two days ago on Wednesday 6 May, which was an indication that the exams may not take place. Following the most recent meeting, a Department statement said “The group continued its discussions on the practicalities of holding the Leaving Certificate examinations, given the constraints of social distancing and other measures that may be required, based on the available medical advice. The group also discussed alternative assessment models.” (emphasis added).
The expected “plan B” is that students will be awarded grades based on their classwork. Secondary teachers’ trade unions indicated that they would be willing to support this, subject to a number of clarifications and assurances. A stumbling block will be the potential for appeals from students who score less than they expected.
Around 60,000 Leaving Cert 17 and 18-year-old students are now anxiously waiting to see what news emerges from the Department of Education later today (Friday).
Meanwhile, comedians have been quick off the marks with their views of how a system of predicted grades would work