Covid-19: Quarantined Leaving Cert students could sit exams in isolation
Department says some students may be unable to attend exam halls on health grounds
An invigilator wearing a mask and shield to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, distributes exam paper to students in Hong Kong. Irish authorities are exploring what public health measures will be needed to protect students and staff. Photograph: Jerome Favre/AP
Education authorities are working on plans to allow Leaving Cert students who are ill or in quarantine to sit their exams in isolation from other students.
The State Examinations Commission (SEC) is consulting with public health experts and school management bodies on safeguards aimed at minimising the risk of infection to candidates, superintendents and other school staff.
In a document prepared for Oireachtas members, the Department of Education acknowledges that it is likely that some students may be unable to attend exam centres on health grounds, as they may be ill, in quarantine or isolation.
“The SEC and the Department are considering appropriate alternative arrangements so that candidates in this situation are not disadvantaged compared to their peers.”
The commission’s past practice has been to set up “special centres” for exam candidates who cannot complete the exams in normal exam halls in schools.
These typically take place in smaller rooms, such as school classrooms, for candidates with additional needs or anxiety issues.
Hospitals and other health settings are also used for candidates who cannot attend exam halls for health reasons.
In all cases, superintendents are assigned to oversee the exam in each special centre.
Other public health measures being worked on by authorities include plans for how many candidates will be permitted into individual exam halls and what minmum distance will be required between desks.
For example, students in Hong Kong - who were among the first in the world to begin their final secondary-school exams last week - are required to wear face masks and have their temperature checked when they arrived at exam halls.
In addition, all desks must be spaced up to 1.8m apart, while exam invigilators are required to wear masks and latex gloves.
The Department of Education has said decisions on how the Leaving Cert exams will be run will be based on the advice of public health experts and guidance will issue to schools and to candidates.
It is likely this advice may not be available until early June, when authorities finalise the exam timetable and there is greater certainty over the risk of infection in the communiuty.
Uncertainty over the exam arrangements, however, has sparked criticism from Opposition deputies.
Sinn Féin’s’s education spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD said firm details on safety measures are urgently needed.
“One of the many questions that urgently need to be answered is what provision will be made to keep students who are cocooning or displaying symptoms safe,” he said.
“If the Leaving Cert is going to happen in July and August and there are still huge questions over it, the bottom line is that it has to be safe.
“There can be no question of students who are cocooning, displaying symptoms or who have vulnerable relatives being put at any risk. If they are sitting any exam they absolutely need to be able to take it alone and in complete safety, with no risk of transmission. That must be a bottom line.”
Fianna Fáil’s Thomas Byrne TD called for official public health advice on the decision to delay the Leaving Cert to be published.
He said this was a key piece of information “which cut to the very heart of what is or is not possible in the current circumstances. Students and their families are experiencing great stress at this time.”
Mr Byrne added: “There has been far too many leaks of what might and might not happen, it’s only adding to the stress and anxiety and we need official information to give assurance.”