Population bulge means record numbers will sit Leaving Cert and Junior Cycle exams

Candidates with Covid may access deferred sitting, while those with a runny nose advised to attend

Just over 135,000 students are due to sit their Leaving Cert and Junior Cycle exams from today. Photograph: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

A record number of students – just over 135,000 – are registered to sit their Leaving Cert and Junior Cycle exams from today due to a demographic bulge among secondary school-aged young people.

For many of this year’s Leaving Cert students, it is their first State exam due to the Covid-era cancellation of the Junior Cycle exams.

This year’s exam papers have been adjusted with additional choice to help make up for pandemic-related disruption caused to students’ education.

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The numbers due to sit the 2023 exams are up by 3 per cent compared with last year’s figure of just over 131,000, with the most significant increases in the cohorts entered for the Leaving Cert Applied programme (+20 per cent) and Junior Cycle (+5 per cent).


Pupils will sit exams across more than 800 schools and other venues, as well as 9,000 special exam centres – typically smaller classrooms – for students with additional needs.

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The delivery of the State exams is a huge logistical exercise involving the secure distribution of 8,000-strong boxes containing 4 million exam papers to superintendents responsible for supervising the written examinations.

A deferred sitting of the Leaving Cert exams will again be held this year during July for eligible candidates who miss the main sitting as a result of serious illness, accident, injury or a close family bereavement.

A key change this year is that a candidate who experiences an “extreme medical emergency” during the exams may also access these sittings. There was controversy last year when a student who suffered an epileptic seizure was not entitled to the resit the exam.

Following public health advice, the State Examinations Commission (SEC) is also advising that Leaving Cert candidates with Covid-19 may apply for access to the deferred sitting and will be subject to a mandatory absence period of five days.

It says those who only have nasal symptoms, such as a runny nose or a sneeze, but otherwise feel well, should attend for their exams.

Minister for Education Norma Foley extended best wishes to all candidates on a “milestone” day in their lives.

“To all candidates, I extend the very best of luck and good wishes as you begin your examinations. This is an opportunity to showcase the hard work and time you have dedicated to your studies and the wide range of knowledge you have acquired. You have worked tirelessly, even throughout unique challenges encountered through the course of your studies. The hard work is done and will stand to you over the days and weeks ahead,” she said.

As announced last month, Leaving Cert results are due on August 25th, a week earlier than last year’s date, but later than the traditional mid-August date.

The SEC said additional time was needed to fulfil a pledge by Ms Foley that, after a number of years of inflated grades during the Covid-era, there will be no “cliff edge” or automatic return to pre-pandemic grade profiles for Leaving Cert results this year.

It said this will require an adjustment to the marks awarded to students through the marking process which can only be applied once all of the marking has been completed.

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Last year, for example, grades were increased by an average of just over 5 per cent to match the previous year’s grades.

Teachers’ unions said this year’s students should take comfort in the fact that there has never been a wider range of alternative routes they can take to reach their career of choice.

Teachers’ Union of Ireland president Liz Farrell said: “Students will have worked hard and will inevitably find that they are better prepared than they might think.”

Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland president elect Geraldine O’Brien praised the resilience of this year’s cohort of students.

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“Your teachers are so proud of you and are excited to see you move towards the next stage of your lives,” said Ms O’Brien.

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