Ask Brian: My son’s Leaving Cert politics exam clashes with another subject

Students should not be expected to sit three Leaving Cert written papers in a single day

State authorities will need to examine holding exams on Saturdays. Photo: iStock

State authorities will need to examine holding exams on Saturdays. Photo: iStock


Question: My son is taking the new politics subject for his Leaving Cert. I’ve just been told the subject will clash with another exam he is sitting (design and communication graphics). This means he will start his first exam at 9.30am and now won’t finish until 8pm. This seems very unfair. Are other students in a similar boat? Answer: The Leaving Cert has many flaws, but at its core it is scrupulously fair to all candidates, and has therefore remained virtually unchanged in terms of format since its inception in the early years of the State’s existence.

The circumstances in which your son is now expected to sit his written papers in June breaches that fundamental principal of fairness; I do not see how this can be allowed to continue.

The State Examinations Commission (SEC) recently confirmed that a total of 27 students face subject clashes this year; 16 of those are due to sit the politics / design and communication graphics. Of those 16 students, 11 will face three exams in just one day.

Subjects clashes are not unheard of. Religious education and applied mathematics are examined on the last day, but students at least know this prior to selecting their Leaving Cert subjects.

There can also be clashes for students who sit so-called “non curricular” subjects, such as certain foreign languages. Again, these students would have advance notice.

In the case of politics, however, the decision to drop it into the timetable alongside an existing subject, just two months before the exam, strikes me as grossly unfair.

As far as I can see, these subject clashes will only get worse. The introduction of computer science and physical education as new Leaving Cert subjects to be examined in two years’ time, along with Chinese being considered as a full curricular subject, means the current schedule of exams is unsustainable.

All these exams cannot reasonably be squeezed into a period of time between the first Wednesday in June and the second last Friday in June.

Students traditionally have the last week in June free to reflect on their final CAO course choices, without the anxiety of exams to contend with.

The solution for the future and for your son and others may be to run the exam schedule on the two Saturdays which currently fall within the exam schedule.

In fact, the State Examinations Commission ran an English paper on a Saturday in 2011 because a supervisor handed out paper two instead of paper 1 English earlier in the exam cycle.

Going back much, much further, I recall sitting a second maths Inter Cert paper on a Saturday in 1969 due to a break-in at a school which resulted in papers being distributed prior to the exam.

I am aware that the National Association of Principals and Deputies has suggested exams on Saturdays to the SEC. This would make much more sense, and be fairer all round.