Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA
Sixth-year students have written to Minister for Education Norma Foley about their Leaving Cert concerns as the State exam is eased from its Covid-era form.
In the first year of the pandemic, Leaving Cert students did not have to sit written exams and instead had their work graded by their teachers.
Their grades were then ‘standardised’ by the Department of Education to bring them in line with previous years.
In 2021, results were artificially boosted in order to stay in line with the 2020 results, with the changes leading to Leaving Cert grades reaching record highs in recent years.
Despite the record high numbers, Ms Foley pledged the overall Leaving Cert results for the class of 2022 “will be no lower” than in the previous two years.
On September 2nd, Ms Foley said the grades for the 2023 Leaving Cert exams will get an adjustment similar to that in August 2021 but would be “updated as relevant”.
The department said the adjustment reflects the time lost by students due to various disruptions caused by the pandemic.
Despite concerns about the need to stabilise the Leaving Cert to be in line with places available at third-level institutions, Ms Foley said there will be “no cliff edge for the students in terms of grade inflation”.
Correspondence released to the PA news agency under Freedom of Information legislation shows the pressure the Minister faces to keep that pledge, as students wrote to Ms Foley to express their concern about the Leaving Cert in 2023.
In an email sent on September 15th, a sixth-year student said, due to the disruption to their studies in the second, third and fifth year, “it is only fair we get similar adjustments to last year’s 2021/2022 Leaving Certificate students”.
“We feel that there has not been much of an effort put towards adjustments this year as the structure of the Leaving Certificate exam is practically back to the original exam prior to Covid,” they said.
“As you did say there will be ‘no cliff edge’ towards this year’s exams, but there seems to be very much only that.”
A Leaving Cert student from Galway wrote to the Minister to say the adjustments announced left them feeling “very hard done by”.
“I myself missed a lot of school in my fifth year because of Covid-related issues, missing out on a lot of education that I would have got in a normal year.”
The Galway student also said students “don’t believe (these) are the most fair concessions” when compared to the last Leaving Cert.
Correspondence dated September 5th asked for current fifth years to be accommodated when sitting their Leaving Cert exams.
“They have missed crucial parts of the foundations of learning in second year and third year as well as not being given the opportunity to sit the Junior Cert,” it said.
“I firmly believe the same accommodations should be made (for) next year’s Leaving Cert students.”
In a letter dated September 16th, a fifth-year student wrote to the minister to ask for the Leaving Cert to be “changed and changed now”.
They said there is “no reason to put students under this immense pressure” to sit an exam where “anything can go wrong”.
The student called for a long-term assessment which could include exams at Christmas and Easter, and said the current pressurised system “isn’t good for health or mental health”.
Calling the current system “disgusting”, they added: “Students are forced to do one exam that decides (their) future and are forced to meet certain standards.”
Included in the documents released to PA is a request from one student who asked Ms Foley to “do what you can” to ensure the State exams are not held before June 10th, 2023 – the date pop star Harry Styles is due to perform at Slane Castle in Co Meath.
“I know that the Leaving Certificate examination takes place around this time of year and I am pleading with you, along with the whole nation of Leaving and Junior Certificate students, to please do not put an exam on the day before 10th June 2023 as it will cause major impacts on thousands across the country who wish to attend this particular concert.
“I hope you understand the impact this concern has on thousands of people that find comfort in Harry Styles and love his music.
“I write this email on behalf of all Irish Harry Styles fans,” they wrote.
A spokesman for the Department of Education said: “The state examinations for 2022 saw examinations for all students – Leaving Certificate and Junior Cycle – return for the first time since 2019.
“Recognising the disruption to teaching and learning which had been experienced by students as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, measures were announced to address concerns including changes to exam papers, which gave students added choice and time in the exam hall, relieving pressure and ensuring greater fairness.
“The arrangements for the examinations of 2022 also included a commitment that the results would be, on aggregate, no lower than those of 2021. This reflected the concern that the class of 2022 might be disadvantaged in comparison with 2021, particularly when it came to access to work or further and higher education.
“Accordingly a ‘post-marking adjustment’ was made to all of the results so the overall aggregate set of results for 2022 is no lower than 2021.
“Following the issue of Leaving Certificate 2022 results, the Minister for Education affirmed that there will be no ‘cliff edge’ in relation to Leaving Certificate grades.”