There have been growing calls for clarity for Leaving Certificate students regarding this year's exams. 

Both Opposition and Government parties have asked the Minister for Education to provide certainty or give a date as to when a decision will be made, and to publish contingency plans. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s Six one News this evening, Minister Norma Foley reiterated that it was the Government’s intention to proceed with the traditional exams and she said consultation with teacher, parent, school and student representatives was ongoing. 

Labour's Aodhán Ó Ríordáin told the Dáil that an early decision was necessary and the waiting was intolerable for students in 6th year.

He called on the Minister to clarify the situation in February. 

Richard Boyd Barrett of Solidarity/People Before Profit accused the minister of attempting to provide "fake certainty" to students.

He said the truth was that because of the epidemiological situation the Minister could not give certainty. He said that he and others were "inundated" with communications from highly anxious students. Mr Boyd Barrett appealed to the minister to give students choice and alternatives to sitting the exams. 

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Independent TD Marian Harkin appealed for consideration of a "hybrid model" for the Leaving Certificate where there would be predictive grades for oral, practical and project work. 

Ms Harkin told Minister Foley that she should be telling students to prepare for predictive grades.

Sinn Féin's Pauline Tully called on the Minister to admit that there was a question over the traditional Leaving Cert and she said students needed information urgently. 

In an indication of the pressure that is being brough to bear on politicians, Government TDs also asked the minister to name a date when she could provide more certainty to students, but none was forthcoming. 

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ASTI says Leaving Cert exams should go ahead as normal in June

Second level teachers' union the ASTI meanwhile has again said that the Leaving Certificate exams should run as normal in June, despite a call for it to be called off this year.

Responding to a call from Fianna Fáil Senator Timmy Dooley that the exams be cancelled, ASTI President Ann Piggott told RTÉ’s Claire Byrne show that it seemed quite unusual that someone from the Minister for Education's party should be calling for the cancellation of the State exams, particularly when the minister had committed to them going ahead.

Ms Piggott said modifications had been made for the Leaving Certificate exams and that there were several problems with calculated grades.

She said the ASTI wanted all students back in school and returned to the classroom as soon as it is safe.

Norma Foley also announced plans to reopen special schools and special classes in primary schools on a staggered basis from next Thursday. 

After talks with trade union representatives this morning, Minister Foley said this was a "shared ambition" of both her’s and their’s. 

However, the parents of children with physical and intellectual disabilities reacted with caution.

Ann-Marie Boyle, who is the mother of two children with autism, told RTÉ News that she did not yet believe the news and would not tell her children that their school is going to reopen until she had further details.

Special Needs Assistants too say they want more information as to how their health and safety concerns are going to be addressed. 

Criticising last week's announcements in the Dáil, Sinn Féin's Pauline Tully said they had consisted of half-baked plans cobbled together over 24 hours. 

Commenting on today's announcement of an intention to reopen special schools and classes from next week, Richard Boyd Barrett said there was a suggestion that the minister had gotten an agreement when in reality she did not have an agreement. 

Call for vaccine priority for special education teachers

The INTO has called for special education teachers to be moved higher up the vaccine priority list. 

The union says this is "only right" given that those teachers will now be required to return to schools ahead of mainstream class teachers and also in recognition of the very close care and attention these teachers give to their pupils.

In a statement the union said; "We expect the Government to shortly re-state the commitment made this week by An Tánaiste that those who work in special education will be prioritised in this manner, thereby ensuring swifter access to the vaccine."

The union says its executive council has indicated support for proposals to reopen special schools and to partially reopen schools for children with additional needs with a number of additional provisos. 

They include that time is provided to school management and staff to plan for the return to in-school provision for vulnerable pupils; that up to date public health advice on the particulars of this proposal is provided; that public health supports and testing/tracing available to schools is augmented with immediate effect; and that childcare is made available for special education staff who are parents.

The Head of Education at Fórsa said he envisages that about half of services for Special Educational Needs students will resume by 25 January, "building towards a full provision of services by the beginning of February." 

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Andy Pike said "there is still ground to cover" but, "if the Government and the department provide a greater degree of confidence that is it safe to attend, and explain issues around testing and tracing, then the other problems will be easier to resolve."

He said it is the "shared intention" of members for services to get back up and running as soon as possible, adding that there are still unresolved issues around staff with children and what to do if they are unable to attend work.