Exam students need the Department 'to learn from the mistakes and delays of last year,' says union

Exam students need the Department 'to learn from the mistakes and delays of last year,' says union

Second-level students and their parents have called for increased communication from the Department of Education and Skills regarding any decisions made surrounding the 2021 State Examinations and the reopening of schools.

Second-level students and their parents have called for increased communication from the Department of Education and Skills regarding any decisions made surrounding the 2021 State Examinations and the reopening of schools.

On Wednesday, the Irish-Second Level Students’ Union (ISSU) published their ‘Report on the State Examinations 2021 and the Reopening of Schools’ following a detailed consultation process, including a survey which had over 20,000 responses and a private webinar with over 250 representatives of ISSU member schools in attendance.

In a statement, the ISSU said the purpose of the report “is to ensure student voice is being included in any decisions made surrounding the 2021 State Examinations and the reopening of schools”.

The ISSU reiterated the need for “increased communication” from the Department of Education and Skills regarding safety protocols and “the rationale behind their decisions”, with 73% of survey respondents feeling either very unsafe or unsafe with regard to the prospect of schools reopening.

The ISSU also noted that “poor communications is also leading to students lacking any real trust in the Department’s decisions”, with 75% of respondents saying that there trust in the Department is either very poor or poor.

The ISSU say they will now be advocating for a choice for Leaving Certificate students between calculated grades or sitting in-person exams in June, with over 81% of respondents rating this option favourably.

Skibbereen native and Education Officer of the ISSU Alicia O’Sullivan said, following the consultation process, the union now have a well-rounded view of what students want.

“Students are calling out for clarity and are calling for the Department to give them some idea of what might happen regarding their exams.

“We have listened and we now have a clearer picture of what students want, and we want to work constructively with the Department and other stakeholders to make sure that all students are catered for, and that their welfare is prioritised over anything else in the coming months,” she said.

The union has said they will also be advocating for clarity with regard to the Junior Certificate exams, with 71% of Junior Cycle students who responded to the survey communicating their dissatisfaction with the support they have received from the Department.

The ISSU’s consultation process found that Junior Cycle students are also not in favour of exams proceeding as currently planned, with calculated grades or an option of calculated grades and in-person exams gathering the majority of support.

Speaking on the launch of the survey and consultation report, ISSU President Reuban Murray said students want clarity and for the Department “to learn from the mistakes and delays of last year”.

“We need to plan now for what might be happening regarding exams and the reopening of schools in the coming weeks and months.

“We’re asking for compassion for the thousands of students who - up until now- have been asked to carry on as normal, in what are completely abnormal times.

“It is clear that we need to try something different, and we’re ready and willing to contribute to this with our recommendations in this report,” he said.

The ISSU will present these findings to Minister Norma Foley, the Department of Education and Skills and all education stakeholders at the advisory group meeting regarding State Examinations this Friday.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Secondary Schools Parent Associations (CSSPA) and the Education and Training Board Schools National Parents' Association (ETBsNPA) are calling for the Minister for Education and Skills Norma Foley to engage with the organisations.

“We are calling on Minister Foley to engage with both National Organisations in order to hear the voice and concerns of all parents and to ensure that they are represented on all advisory groups. This is despite numerous requests to have this lack of representation addressed,” a joint statement from the organisations said.

“The Minister is not hearing the voice of the majority of parents.

“Her advisory committee does not represent anyone from CSSPA and ETBsNPA, which represents 85% of parents in the country,” CSSPA President Sean O’Riordan told The Echo.

He added that students and parents need clarity regarding the State Exams in a bid to relieve some of the “pressure and anxiety” students and their parents are experiencing.

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