Thursday, 18 February 2021
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
I used to believe the Departments of Justice and Health were the most dysfunctional in government for a number of years but the Department of Education has come up on the outside and taken that mantle. This is because of last year's fiasco involving indecisiveness over cancelling the leaving certificate examinations and the debacle over predicted grades. The latter involved school profiles, which had to be removed. The Minister had to apologise to 6,500 students for incorrect grading. The Minister then promised a review of the leaving certificate examinations of 2020. We are still waiting for it. Not even six weeks into 2021, we have had no fewer than three announcements about schools reopening that had to be withdrawn. These were on 7 January, 26 January and earlier this week before the Cabinet. We welcome the fact the Government has taken on board the Labour Party's call for clarity and choice for leaving certificate students but there are still question marks over certainty because of public health advice.
I want to raise a number of issues. Over the next six weeks, students will have to decide whether to sit oral and practical examinations despite great uncertainty over schools reopening. Some people, including those in the unions, are quite rightly asking why, if oral and practical examinations are going ahead, all students cannot do them regardless of whether they are going down the traditional leaving certificate route or the calculated grades route. This type of external assessment would give both teachers and students peace of mind. We in the Labour Party ask the Tánaiste to consider this as a constructive option.
I want to ask the Tánaiste a very specific question about the leaving certificate examinations and the reopening of schools. Given yesterday's announcement regarding the leaving certificate, has the plan been Tony Holohan and NPHET proofed? It is a very simple question. Given the kite-flying and the commentary by both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil at parliamentary party meetings regarding the reopening of schools, and considering that the meeting of the Cabinet subcommittee on Covid is to be held only this evening, is there any chance that any of what is proposed could be torpedoed because of the Chief Medical Officer and NPHET doing their jobs and giving advice? I am aware that Ministers, including the Tánaiste and Taoiseach, would often have been upset by letters coming in just before key decisions were to be made. I really want to know the position because we must not have kite-flying. We have to have certainty. Can the Tánaiste guarantee here today that the plans for the leaving certificate examinations and, most important, the plans for the reopening of schools, which were mentioned again on radio by the Minister for Education this morning and by the Taoiseach on Limerick radio, will be implemented because the Government has consulted NPHET and the CMO, Mr. Tony Holohan, and that they will not be torpedoed?