Leaving Cert: Cancelled elements may be flagged on students’ results

Contentious practice of annotating certificates has been subject to legal action in past

Thousands of this year’s Leaving Cert students may have their results “flagged”’ to show they did not complete the oral or practical parts of their exams.

Under existing State Examinations Commission rules, students' Leaving Certificates are annotated in cases where they are exempted from completing an exam component, typically on the grounds of a special need.

The practice has proved controversial among students with dyslexia, for example, who claim it discriminates against them.

The commission has successfully argued in the High Court that annotation is a necessary balance to protect the integrity of the examination certification process.


This year tens of thousands of Leaving Cert students will not complete oral and, in some cases, practical elements of their exams after the Government decided to cancel them last month.

In response to a query on whether students’ Leaving Certs would be annotated as a result, the commission did not directly answer the question.

“The grades in the State examinations are calculated and results issued on the basis of all components in each examination,” a spokeswoman said, in a statement.

“The [commission] will continue to approach all remaining elements of the 2020 examinations season acting with the best interests of candidates to the fore in accordance with the core principles of equity and fairness which underpin the state examinations and in line with Government and public health advice as this unprecedented and unpredictable situation evolves.”

However, the commission’s official guidance to schools for the 2020 examinations is specific on the requirement for annotation in particular circumstances.

A document regarding the “eligibility criteria for specific accommodations” states that a waiver or exemption from the assessment of a core exam element will give rise to an explanatory note on a student’s final exam certificate.

“The practice of annotating certificates and statements allows a balance to be struck between the need to enable students with disabilities to access the examinations by being exempted from assessment in core elements of a subject, while at the same time maintaining the integrity of the overall system, ensuring transparency for end users and fairness to other candidates,” the document states.

Dyslexic students

In the case of a student who was not assessed for an oral exam, for example, the annotation to a certificate would state that “all parts of the examination in this subject were assessed except the oral element”.

In 2007 the commission defended the need for students’ certificates to be annotated before the High Court .

It successfully appealed an Equality Tribunal ruling that found that Leaving Cert students with dyslexia had been discriminated against due to the practice of annotating their certificates.

In that case the students’ Leaving Certificates contained an annotation stating that the complainants were not assessed on spelling and written punctuation elements in English and spelling and some grammatical elements in other language subjects.

In a separate development, Opposition political parties have stepped up calls for students’ exam fees to be waived for students in homes where a parent is unemployed.

Exam candidates have been asked to pay €116 by the end of this month. Medical card-holders are exempt from the payment.

Fianna Fáil education spokesman Thomas Byrne called for the fees to be waived for pupils who are living in a house where a parent is unemployed or receiving a Covid-19-related payment.

“This small measure could relieve some of the pressures placed on families of exam year students at this difficult time,” he said.

Sinn Féin’s education spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire also called for fees to be waived given the extraordinary circumstances this year’s students are experiencing.

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