For Written Answer on : 04/02/2021
Question Number(s): 122 Question Reference(s): 6311/21
Asked by: Brendan Smith T.D.
To ask the Minister for Education the position regarding the holding of the 2021 junior certificate examinations; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
My Department is acutely aware of the challenges faced by students, teachers and families as a result of COVID-19. The pandemic has brought significant challenges to the education system, and I am acutely aware of the impacts that this has had on those students preparing to sit their final examinations. It is recognised that a flexible and agile approach is necessary in light of the continuing fast-moving environment linked to COVID-19.
The planning work underway in respect of the State Examinations in 2021 is being assisted by an Advisory Group of key stakeholders which has met on a number of occasions in recent months. The advisory group has been convened to advise Government on all of the various issues arising in relation to the holding of the 2021 examinations, including public health considerations and appropriate contingency measures. The advisory group includes representatives of students, parents, teachers, school leadership and management bodies, the State Examinations Commission, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, the Higher Education Authority and the Department of Education, including the National Educational Psychological Service.
At a meeting of the group on 22 January, the Irish Second Level Students’ Union presented its Report on the 2021 State Examinations and Return to School. Following this meeting, the group agreed that there would be an intensive set of engagements in respect of exploring further possible options for the examinations, having regard to the findings of the recent ISSU Report on the 2021 State Examinations.
The sub-group exploring these options has since met on three occasions and has discussed further possible measures that could be taken to address the demands on students preparing for the examinations. Having regard to the impact of current school closures for face-to-face tuition, there was also discussion on the scope and form of assessment for the various examination components, written and non-written.
All partners are committed to acting in the interests and wellbeing of students, who are at the heart of this process.
A meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Education also took place on 1 February which provided an opportunity for consideration of possible options prior to consideration by Government as a whole.
From Monday 11 January 2021, all students, including Junior Cycle students, have been engaging in a programme of remote learning with their schools.
The public health restrictions which resulted in the original closure of schools in March 2020 highlighted the absolute necessity for schools to be agile in providing for continuity of schooling in the future. As a contingency measure against the possibility of partial or full school closures, my Department has already provided a suite of guidance materials, agreed with the education partners, to enable schools to mediate the curriculum safely for all pupils/students in a COVID-19 context. These are available at www.gov.ie/backtoschool. This documentation has been complemented by Circular 0074/2020 (Communication/Teaching & Learning Platform) which requires all schools to have in place appropriate contingency measures to ensure that they are prepared to continue to support teaching and learning in the event of a partial or full closure of schools arising from Public Health advice.
Other documents published by my Department to support the return to school include ‘Guidance for Practical Subjects in Post-Primary Schools and Centres for Education’ and ‘Returning to school: Guidance on learning and school programmes for post primary school leaders and teachers’. These documents provide guidance for teachers and schools that is specific to each practical subject area, so that students can be facilitated to actively engage with their learning. All documentation published is available on www.gov.ie/backtoschool.