Dáil Éireann - Volume 475 - 25 February, 1997

Adjournment Debate. - Postponement of Leaving Certificate Applied Examination.

Miss Flaherty: I first requested permission to raise this matter on the Adjournment three weeks ago following a telephone call from a teacher in my constituency who was concerned about her cohort of leaving certificate applied students who had been informed, with little or no notice, that the first tranche of their assessments and examinations were being postponed. The dispute between the Department of Education and the examiners has affected approximately 3,000 students who were to sit this experimental examination.

The leaving certificate applied is a new course for less academic students. It is designed to ensure that they leave a school with certification and additional skills which they would not obtain under the ordinary leaving certificate course. These examinations are part of their ongoing assessment, on which approximately 50 per cent of their final marks are based. They were supposed to present their projects this week, after which they would have an oral examination for which additional marks would be granted. Those of us who face an indefinite future understand how these students feel, having geared themselves to sit their examinations on a certain date only to have them postponed. This has increased the stress on these students.

It took a long time to introduce the leaving certificate applied course and we all welcome it as it will help to keep more second level students in school for longer. The “Pat Kenny Show” interviewed impatient academic students who complained [749] about the time devoted to the leaving certificate applied course. This is not unrelated to this crisis in that these assessments still have to be completed, thus making it difficult to ensure the proper organisation of the school programme and the preparation of students for other examinations.

I appeal to both sides in the dispute to renew their efforts and to reach an agreement in the interests of these 3,000 students who I hoped would blaze a trail for others. The postponement of these examinations has meant a poor start to what many had hoped would be a new opportunity for many students. It is imperative that the dispute is resolved as quickly as possible and I hope the Minister of State will outline the steps which will be taken to achieve this.

Mr. Deenihan: It is a matter of regret to the Minister for Education that it has been necessary for the Department to postpone the assessment of taskwork in the case of leaving certificate applied students. The leaving certificate applied is a new programme which was introduced to schools in 1995 and it is being followed by more than 3,500 students in 124 schools.

The leaving certificate applied programme consists of a range of courses, each designed on a modular basis. A module generally represents a half year's work in one course. Each year of the two-year programme is divided into sessions, September to January and February to June. Student achievement and performance in the leaving certificate applied is recorded in three modes: performance in final examinations; satisfactory completion of modules and performance of taskwork. Assessment of taskwork takes place at the end of each session and is undertaken by visiting examiners appointed by the Department of Education. The examiners assess the work produced by students and interview them on the processes involved.

The assessment scheduled for the week commencing 3 February last, following the September/January session, has been postponed. This arose after members of the Public Service Executive Union in the Department took industrial action in support of a staffing demand. As a result of this action it was not possible to complete the required preparatory work to enable the assessment to proceed as scheduled. A letter notifying schools and examiners of the need for the postponement was issued to school principals and examiners on 29 January last. The Minister is very concerned at the decision of members of the Public Service Executive Union to take industrial action. The Department is currently pursuing all options open to it in seeking a resolution to this difficult industrial relations problem.

It is intended to reschedule the assessment of taskwork at the earliest opportunity. In this context the Department is aware of, and regrets, the disruption which the postponement of the assessments has caused to schools, students and examiners. The Minister is aware that some schools are [750] currently taking their mid-term break and that many have made arrangements for students to take work experience over the next few weeks. Arrangements for the rescheduling of the assessments will be undertaken in a flexible manner following consultation with the parties concerned.

Every consideration will be given to ensure that the delay caused by this industrial relations dispute will not adversely affect the results achieved by candidates for their work. I wish to restate the strong commitment of the Department of Education to the leaving certificate applied programme. This commitment was recently given tangible expression in the announcement of new capital grants for schools offering the programme. The Department is making ongoing and sustained efforts with the full support and assistance of all the education partners to establish this programme on a sound footing and to achieve full recognition of its worth in the world of employment.