The impact of COVID-19 has been felt by all students and the loss of face-to-face teaching hours experienced by the incoming exam students in September has been of major concern to students, parents and teachers. The long awaited guidelines published by the Government earlier this week, ‘Reopening Our Schools – The Roadmap for the Full Return to School’, have addressed the concerns in relation to incoming third and sixth year students. It has been recognised that in light of the huge disruption to classroom teaching, changes are needed in relation to assessment for certificate for these exam students. The detailed arrangements in relation to the Junior Certificate examinations in 2021 will be made available before the start of the school year, but the guidelines clearly state the number of classroom based assessments to be completed by those entering third year has been reduced and the dates of completion of some elements will be extended into the new school year.

Leaving Cert Class of 2021

The Department have also recognised that some changes will be needed in the assessments for students sitting the traditional Leaving Cert, Leaving Cert Applied and Leaving Cert Vocational Programme in 2021. There is no plan to change the structure of questions or the assessment components as both students and teachers are very familiar with these and have been planning towards them all through fifth year. The changes will vary across subjects but in all cases they will involve some combination of the following:

* Students will be provided with greater choice in written exams through the provision of additional questions and/or adjustments to mandatory sections on written examination papers.

* The dates on which coursework briefs are issued will be brought forward to allow extra preparation time for students and teachers.

*In some subjects, changes to the requirements for practical exams will be made to reflect the need to manage access to equipment necessary to complete such exams.

* In the case of LCA students, the number of tasks to be completed will be reduced from three to two.

* Arrangements for the examination of the tasks, to include interviews, will be based on the most up-to-date public health advice.

Additional supports to students

As well as the adjustments to the examinations the Government has placed emphasis on supporting student well-being across all year groups in the transition back to the school environment and during the ongoing stress and anxiety caused to young people during the pandemic. An allocation of 1,080 additional teaching posts, including 120 guidance counsellor posts, will be provided to ensure that students are getting optimum teaching and learning opportunities as well the personal, social, educational and vocational support that is so badly needed at any time, but particularly at a time of uncertainty. Full details of the Roadmap can be assessed on www.assets.gov.ie.

Niamh Dwyer is a Guidance Counsellor in Scoil Phobail Sliabh Luachra, Rathmore & PRO of Kerry Branch of Guidance Counsellors. She can be contacted on careerfocusnow@gmail.com.