Junior cycle exams in September set to be replaced with school assessments in May

Move follows growing concern over impact of delaying exams for 60,000 students

Junior cycle written exams planned for thousands of students in September look set to be abandoned in favour of school-based assessments in May.

The move follows concerns that delaying the exams would lead to unnecessary anxiety among students and logistical problems for schools.

Senior sources say an official Department of Education announcement is due next week advising schools to conduct their own junior cycle assessments in line with school policies.

It is likely to include guidance to schools on options for assessing students instead of a traditional written exam.


Schools will likely be given the freedom to decide on how best to arrange assessments for individual subjects in line with their own policies, according to sources.

Schools in which all students have access to digital devices may opt for a more traditional test, but other schools may opt for project work that students can complete in their own time.

The tests will not be State-certified or marked by the State Examinations Commission. Instead these remaining assessment components will be graded by students' teachers and feed into a school-issued Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement (JCPA), which is given to all students.

This JCPA captures student achievements in a number of assessment elements undertaken over the three years of the junior cycle. Instead of traditional grades, students are recorded as having either “achieved” or “not achieved” an area of learning.

Academic year

The decision represents a major roll-back from Minister for Education Joe McHugh’s announcement earlier this month that junior cycle school-based tests would delayed until the new academic year.

On Monday a secondary school in Co Galway – Coláiste Bhaile Chláir – announced that it would set its own junior cycle tests for students in May instead of waiting for exams in September.

It was followed by Presentation Secondary School in Kilkenny, which also announced on Wednesday that it was going ahead with its own exams for its junior cycle students.

Principal Shane Hallahan said the school was taking the move to avoid students being placed under "extreme pressure" over the summer.

“The current circumstances are difficult and stressful for students, especially being separated from their peers as they try to prepare. I think we have to be conscious that so many young people have worked so hard for this,” he said.

This prompted an appeal by Mr McHugh for schools to hold off cancelling junior cycle tests due next September until discussions took place with representatives of students, parents and schools.

Official guidance

This group met on Friday, and is due to meet again before official guidance is issued next week.

In a statement following the meeting, the department confirmed that issues concerning junior cycle assessment were discussed and would continue when the group meets next week.

In a statement, Mr McHugh said: “I welcome the progress made in several areas today, including issues concerning the junior cycle final examinations. As I stated earlier this week, I would urge schools not to make any local decisions concerning assessment at junior cycle level until the advisory group has concluded its discussions on that part of its work.”

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