One of two unions representing second level teachers has confirmed that it will engage in the newly-devised 'calculated grades' system that will replace this year's Leaving Cert exams.

In a statement the Teachers Union of Ireland said that while there were no perfect solutions, students had a right to advance to the next stage in their lives. 

The Standing Committee of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland adjourned a meeting on the matter without a resolution yesterday, and will hold another meeting this evening. 

Minister for Education Joe McHugh announced the system yesterday, which will give students the option of sitting written Leaving Cert exams at a later date, as yet undetermined, should they choose.

Students will also be able to appeal the grades they are given.

Following a meeting last night to consider the implications of the system, the TUI said that it will require clarifications on a number of issues in relation to the calculated grades, and it will "engage with the Department to ensure that the system is fair and equitable for every student.

"Similarly, we will require safeguards to ensure that the professional integrity of teachers is protected," it said in a statement.

The head of the TUI has also said there should be sanctions introduced if a parent or politician tries to lobby a teacher about a Leaving Cert student's grades.

Speaking on Saturday with Cormac Ó hEadhra, John McGabhann said they had agreed to the changes to this summer’s Leaving Cert but that there are concerns among his members.

He also said he is not certain about the ability of schools to return in September. He said it is not a perfect system but it was necessary in the current circumstances. 

Mr McGabhann said they were persuaded by the public health advice and that a mechanism was required to allow students to progress to third level or to work.

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Yesterday, Mr McHugh said he had made every effort to run the Leaving Cert as close as possible to the way they were originally intended.

However, he said that the decision to cancel the exams had been taken "with a heavy heart".

There will be four layers to the calculated grades system:

  • An estimation of marks and rankings by a student's teacher. The teacher will estimate a percentage mark for each student, and also their ranking compared to classmates. This will happen for each individual subject.
  • This will then be subjected to an in-school alignment process, in which subject teachers will work together to finalise their estimated marks and rankings.
  • The school principal will review and sign off on marks, and may return estimated ranking or marks to teachers for further consideration.
  • A process of national standardisation using statistical methods to ensure a common national standard is applied.

No date has as yet been finalised for the releasing of results to students under this calculated grades system, but the minister said he would like it to be as close as possible to the traditional mid-August date and that the certificate awarded would be the same as in previous years.

Appeals process like third-level

Meanwhile, a leading exert expert on the transition from second to higher level education has compared the new Leaving Certificate appeals process to that operated in many third level institutions. 

Under the proposed system of calculated grades for Leaving Certificate students, the merit of a mark or ranking awarded by a school to a student in a subject cannot be appealed.

Instead, the appeals process looks at how that information was transferred to and processed by the Department of Education.

However a student that is unhappy with their result will have the option to sit the exam at a later date.

According to Dr Áine Hyland, who is Professor Emeritus of Education at UCC, while this is "novel' for second level school students, "the concept the student can appeal the process but not the academic judgement is quite common... across the third level system."

Last month Dr Hyland, who has authored several reports on the college entry system, told RTÉ News that Leaving Certificate exams should go ahead "if at all possible", describing it as "the least bad option".

Following yesterday's announcement, Dr Hyland said that while she would have liked to have seen the written exam "run as it has always been run", the public health advice meant that that was not possible.

"I think the alternative that they have come up with is the next best thing, I can't think of any better way it could have been done," Dr Hyland told RTÉ News.

Dr Hyland said she had ruled out a calculated grades system last month "given that we have no experience running a system of that kind in Ireland and ... we have never had school based assessment in the Leaving Certificate".

"I felt that in the very short space of time that was available that it wouldn't have been possible, but in fact I have been proved wrong, " Dr Hyland added.

She described the system as "quite sophisticated" and "well thought out," and that the process went some way to address concerns about a lack of standardisation across the country as a whole and the way in which teachers would access their own students.