Leaving Cert plans in disarray as talks continue to resolve grading issue

By Jess Casey

Plans for this year’s Leaving Cert have been thrown into disarray after the country’s largest second-level teaching union told members not to begin marking students as it believes the legal protection currently being offered to teachers is “unacceptable”.

As schools received detailed instructions on how Leaving Cert students should be graded, the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI) directed its members to not yet begin working on the process.

At the time of going to print last night, talks between the teaching union and the Department of Education were continuing.

The alternative arrangements brought in for this year’s Leaving Cert are unprecedented, and Education Minister Joe McHugh has previously acknowledged legal vulnerabilities in the system.

The Cabinet signed off on State-backed legal indemnity for teachers, principals, boards of management, and Education and Training Boards who are individually named in any civil proceedings that might arise from the marks a student receives.

According to the guidelines issued by the Department of Education, the indemnity is subject to certain conditions, and subject to cooperating with the State in defending legal cases.

The legal protections offered to teachers was welcomed by the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI).

TUI president Seamus Lahart said the guidelines include “clear legal indemnity” for teachers and schools. “This is of vital importance,” he said.

However, the ASTI said the current indemnity could still see individual teachers pursued for costs. The union had engaged with the process of calculated grades to ensure that the model was rolled out as quickly as possible for students, the ASTI said in a statement.

“As part of that process, we have sought to have full indemnity available for teachers while they undertake this work in good faith,” said the ASTI statement.

“Unfortunately, and upon legal advice, the indemnity that has been offered to teachers thus far falls short of what is required, and could potentially lead to personal liabilities for costs for second-level teachers.

"This position is unacceptable. We will continue to engage with the Department of Education and Skills to secure the necessary provisions. In the meantime, we are advising ASTI members not to undertake any work on the process until this issue is resolved.”

The Department of Education has asked schools to have their end of the data submitted by the end of May, a tight deadline over which many have previously raised concerns. It is hoped that the timing of this year’s results will run as close as possible to that of previous years.

A spokesman for the Department of Education said that further clarification was being provided to the unions.

Mr McHugh recognises the importance of teachers carrying out the work in relation to calculated grades, said the spokesman, adding: “Which is why he sought approval from Government to put a State indemnity scheme in place.”

Detailed instructions issued to schools by the Department of Education yesterday evening outline how teachers and schools should mark this year’s Leaving Cert due to the cancelled written exams this summer.

The process of calculated grades is set to take place in four steps. This includes a teacher issuing an estimated grade and class ranking to each student. These marks are then scrutinised by another teacher in the same subject, before they are submitted to a school’s principal. Once a principal is satisfied that due process has been followed, the data is submitted to the Department of Education.

Teachers are being asked to remain alert to possible “unconscious bias” that might affect their estimates. The official guide warns that research shows estimates can be affected by a teacher’s experience or perception of a student’s behaviour, or by their knowledge about a student’s socioeconomic or family background.

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