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Urgent clarity on State exams needed

The Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon, has called for urgent clarity on plans for the Leaving and Junior Certificate examinations due to begin in less than two months’ time.

“I appreciate the difficult and unprecedented situation that the Government and the Department of Education and Skills find themselves in due to the current public health crisis. However, students have been left too long without answers about what will happen in relation to State exams.

“There has been a complete vacuum of information leaving young people stressed, anxious and distracted from the study they should be doing.

“As recently as Wednesday of this week, the Government again advised young people to stay focused and to continue to study. This advice may be well intended but the reality is that many students cannot simply continue to study in the current circumstances. Many do not have access to the online classes and support being offered, some are living in cramped environments not suitable for study and others are helping to care for younger siblings while parents go out to work or, on Government orders, work from home.

“I understand that the Minister for Education and Skills, Joe McHugh has expressed a wish to give students at least two weeks back at school before exams begin. I support this view and would even encourage a longer period of time to give students a chance to make up for the two months they’ve lost and ensure that the full curriculum is covered by everyone.

“Whether we like it or not the Leaving Certificate is an extremely important exam, deciding the direction of travel for many young people for the next few years of their lives. We must give those preparing for this exam every chance to do as well as they can and to fulfil their potential.

“Students have the least power and influence within the education system, it is therefore vital that their best interests are the foremost consideration in making the final decision. I know that the Department is working tirelessly to find a fair and equitable solution to this unprecedented conundrum. I am calling on the Government to be clear and honest with young people as soon as possible, and to allow them to prepare for whatever the outcome may be.

“A recent digital survey carried out by Foróige among 16-18 year olds found that they are finding it difficult to do school work at home while simultaneously worrying about the health and safety of their loved ones. This ‘double whammy’ of anxiety and health concerns puts an enormous weight on the shoulders of so many of our young people.

“One of the things that people crave when they are anxious is certainty. It is that certainty I am calling for – whatever the decision, make it clear and give it as soon as possible.”