Call for students who fall ill during exams to be allowed postpone

Fewer than 40 sat Leaving Cert papers in July under pilot scheme for bereaved pupils

Amy Richards (18) secured six H1s in her Leaving Cert exams despite sitting her English paper in a hospital ward just hours after her appendix ruptured

Amy Richards (18) secured six H1s in her Leaving Cert exams despite sitting her English paper in a hospital ward just hours after her appendix ruptured


Families of students who became ill during this year’s Leaving Cert examination period have urged the Government to allow pupils to sit some of their papers at a later date.

This year was the first time pupils who lost a close relative during the June examination period had the chance to postpone up to three days of papers.

The State Examinations Commission (SEC) said fewer than 40 students sat exams in early July as part of the pilot scheme.

While accommodation was offered to bereaved students, pupils who become unexpectedly ill during the exam period must still sit their papers in June.

In July, Wexford student Amy Richards described in a letter to The Irish Times how she sat her English exam in a hospital ward just hours after her appendix ruptured. The 18-year-old wrote the exam system was “unjust and archaic” and that “students who have had to face a medical emergency should be allowed a deferral in the same way that recently bereaved students are”. Ms Richards discovered on Tuesday she secured six H1s in her exams.

Like Ms Richards, Jade Phelan (18) was healthy in the run up to the exams. However, she woke at 4.30am on Tuesday, June 11th – the day of Irish Paper 2 and biology – with a serious pain in her abdomen. She spent the following six hours getting sick in the bathroom.

“I just couldn’t move, I had zero energy,” said Ms Phelan who later visited an emergency clinic where she was diagnosed with gastroenteritis. When her mother contacted the school they offered that she sit her Irish and biology exams next to the bathroom with a bin beside her desk.

“I know the principal was limited with options, they were only trying to help,” said Ms Phelan’s older sister Jamie who contacted the SEC requesting that her sister sit the two exams in July under the bereaved students scheme.

“Tell me why she should put her life on hold for another year after missing these two exams and that there is no contingency plan in place for when these situations occur,” Jamie asked in an email to the SEC on June 14th which included a doctor’s certificate and reference from the school principal. The SEC responded on June 25th saying it planned to undertake a “comprehensive review” of how best to support students experiencing trauma and adversity during exams.

Ms Phelan discovered on Tuesday that she had passed all the exams she sat but without her Irish exam, she is unable to study marketing at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) as she had hoped. Instead she plans to study a PLC course at Waterford College of Further Education before continuing on to WIT next year.


Lucy*, a student in Galway noticed spots appearing on her cheeks about three days before her first Leaving Cert exam. Her skin became progressively worse during the first week of exams and she felt unusually tired. By the second week she could barely stand from exhaustion.

“It was before the French exam,” recalls her mother. “I couldn’t believe it, she was crying in the car. I nearly said just forget about the Leaving Cert. As the exams progressed she got worse and worse to the point where it was horrendous. One exam we practically had to carry her in.”

Lucy woke on the morning of the French exam to discover that along with the rash on her face and general feeling of exhaustion, her shoulder had dislocated overnight and fingers were swollen. “I could barely write so I just gave up near the end and didn’t finish it. I just did the bare minimum that day.”

Lucy’s skin condition, exhaustion, finger swelling and sudden shoulder dislocation were diagnosed following her exams as lupus; an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks healthy tissues and organs.

“She’s normally healthy as an ox; she’s tall and strong,” said her mother. “I had taken time off work to support her and make sure she had healthy food. But all those stress hormones, they’re not conducive to good health.”

“There should be a system there for people like me who just happen to have an illness during the exams and caused by the exams,” said Lucy. “They say lupus can flare up because of stress. I was really healthy my entire life, I’d never had any illnesses.”

An SEC statement said a review of the deferral of exams in certain circumstances would take place. It acknowledged that students experience “other forms of trauma and adversity, such as a serious illness” during exams but these issues were “complex” and must be “balanced against the absolute need to maintain integrity and public confidence in the examinations system”.

*Requested that her surname not be used in the article