Leaving Cert students with Covid required to stay away from exams for eight days

Deferred exams due to get underway on June 30th

Leaving cert, junior cert exam

Leaving Cert students who develop Covid-19 or symptoms of the disease will be subject to a mandatory eight-day absence from the exams, under new rules announced by the State Examinations Commission (SEC).

These Covid-affected students will be eligible to sit deferred exams which begin on June 30th and are provisionally due to finish on July 16th.

The rules are contained in guidance circulated to schools on Wednesday which include eligibility criteria for the deferred sittings of Leaving Cert exams for students with Covid, those who are bereaved during the exams or who develop a serious medical condition.

In case of Covid-19-affected students, the system will rely on students declaring or self-certifying that they have the disease or symptoms.

Such students will be required to immediately notify their school if they are absent for an exam and believe they meet the eligibility criteria for access to deferred exams.

The school will then be required to make an initial application to the SEC on the candidate’s behalf to access the deferred exams through an online application system.

For example, in the case of a candidate who reports to their school on Wednesday, June 8th that they have symptoms of Covid-19, the candidate will be absent for all of their exams until Wednesday, June 15th, inclusive.

Provided they have no symptoms, they may return to complete their remaining exams from Thursday, June 16th onwards and may sit all exams they missed in the deferred sittings, beginning on June 30th.

In implementing the eight-day absence period, the SEC said it is taking a risk-based approach to managing Covid-19 in the exams which is broadly in line with public health advice, limiting Covid-19 risks, and providing some certainty about the duration of absences for candidates and schools.

Students who experience a close family bereavement very close to or during the exams and need time to prepare for and attend the funeral may also be eligible for sitting deferred exams.

Those who experience bereavement of a close relative during the exams or in the two days prior to the exams which commence on June 8th this year.

The SEC said this is to provide candidates with some time away from their examinations to prepare for and attend the funeral of their loved one without having to contend with the added pressure of their full set of exams at the same time. Each candidate can decide to defer up to three days of exams.

In all cases, the SEC must be satisfied as to the validity of the application and will reserve the right to seek independent proof of the bereavement.

For the purposes of deferred exams, close relatives are defined as one of the following: a father, stepfather, mother, stepmother, legal guardian, brother, stepbrother, half-brother, sister, stepsister, half-sister, grandfather or grandmother.

In addition, those who experience a serious accident, injury or illness which renders them unable to attend for their exams may be eligible for deferred exams.

These students may be able to defer some or all of their exams, depending on the timing, nature and severity of their condition.

Medical evidence for the reason behind the absence must then be submitted to the SEC within four working days of the date of the initial application.

For exam integrity reasons, the SEC says the threshold for evidence is high and evidence will be required from a medical consultant or from a hospital.

Certification, or other evidence, provided by a GP or other medical practitioner will not be considered.

If a candidate takes ill after commencing an exam they will not have access to the deferred sitting.

The SEC says this is because the deferred exams are not “second chance” exams and are not available once a candidate has commenced or completed an exam, even if the candidate maintains that they were unwell while taking the exams.

Epilepsy Ireland, which has been campaigning for students who experience seizures to be able to access deferred exams, said the new rules were a step in the right direction.

It said it welcomed the fact that students who are unable to sit an exam due to a seizure prior to the exam can now apply to the SEC for a deferred sitting later in June.

However, it said rules to provide medical evidence within such a short time may be challenging, and noted that students who have a seizure during an exam may not be able to access a deferred sitting.

“We are seeking clarification from the SEC on these issues and will provide any further update received as soon as possible. However, with the Leaving Cert exams beginning next week, these concerns/issues are unfortunately unlikely to be resolved for this year’s sitting,” Epilepsy Ireland said.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent