One of the things that frustrates me most about the Irish media is the way that a lot of the time, they’ll cheerfully and unthinkingly report the most obviously nonsensical nonsense from the Government without stopping to ask a single obvious question. There’s a new line out this morning in relation to the leaving cert which has been plastered everywhere, and it falls into that category. Here’s the Irish Times, though they’re not the only sinners out there, by any stretch of the imagination:

State exams may now be held in late summer or autumn as the Government believes it is unlikely that Covid-19 restrictions will be lifted in time for the usual June start date.

Students have been urged to continue with their studies as senior officials in the Department of Education consider a range of contingency options due to the coronavirus crisis.

One senior source said it was now looking more likely that the exams would be held at the tail-end of the summer as restrictions were unlikely to be lifted in time for the June 3rd written exams date.

Another option being explored by the Government is predictive marking but there are growing concerns about the proposal. “We have no experience of doing that in Ireland. There are no guidelines, no pilot done,” a senior source said.

There are several fairly obvious problems with that, none of them mentioned in the Irish Times piece:

Marking

Say you hold the exams in August – the first and most obvious question is this: Who’s going to correct them?

The exams are corrected every year by teachers. But by the end of August, assuming a return to normality, teachers will be back in schools, teaching their other classes. Most schools, remember, don’t return in September any more, they’re usually all back the last week in August. Correcting exams is a voluntary activity for teachers – they’re not compelled to do it, they just get paid extra if they do. There’s every reason to suspect, back in their full-time jobs teaching next year’s classes, that there’d be many fewer available to correct them in the first place.

Timing

Every year, the state exams are finished, roughly, by the fifteenth of June. The results are issued, annually, on the 15th of August, for the leaving cert, and six weeks later for the Junior Cert. That means it takes two months to correct the leaving cert, even assuming a full slate of correctors.

Under this timetable, the very best you could expect would be results back two weeks earlier than usual, which would be October 1st. And that’s a massive problem because of….

College places

The Irish College which opens latest every year is Trinity, which opens its doors to freshman students in the first week of October. Most of the NUI colleges and Institutes of Technology open several weeks earlier. But with the exams having been held in August, they won’t know which students are coming to them for their courses. So they’ll either have to delay next year’s term, or another solution will have to be found. And even if some way was found to push their terms back for first year students until, say, November, that’s a massive problem because of….

Accomodation

The good thing about getting your leaving cert results on August 15th is that you have at least a month, if not more, to find somewhere to live, etc, when you go to College. Even with the expected easing of the housing market, finding accommodation for students is immensely stressful each year and takes several weeks. If you push the exams back and the results back and the college places and terms back, you’re still going to have people missing vital college time because they have nowhere to live and no time to find somewhere.

And this will all come at the end of a very stressful year because, well….

Stress

Every single year we’re told, endlessly, that the weeks leading up to the leaving cert are “very stressful for students and families”. And that’s when they happen on time.

Imagine this summer for leaving cert students, and their teachers, none of whom will get a summer holiday. It’s a bit like telling people to go off for two weeks and enjoy the sun, and face your execution by firing squad when you come back. Many students are going to spend the entire summer, under this hairbrained scheme, stressing and worrying and studying like crazy for an exam that might never come. Teachers, already expected to correct this years exams while teaching next year’s classes, apparently, will spend the summer trying to help frazzled students prepare.

But the Department of Education knows all this. In fact, it’s the whole point. “We might hold the exams in August” is being said for one reason, and one reason only:

To keep them working.

There’s a legitimate fear amongst some educators that if you were to announce today that the exams were cancelled, students would stop working, and worse than that, might run buck wild around the country in celebration, breaching all sorts of essential Covid regulation.

As it is, teachers are working 8 or 9 hours a day from home, putting lessons up on the internet and communicating with Students online in preparation for exams. With the exams as a focus, it keeps everybody, well, focused. Take them out of the equation and anything might happen.

So whatever the announcement about the State Exams is, it won’t come until as late as humanly possible.

But it won’t be “we’re holding them in August”. Nobody’s that stupid. They just hope that you might be.