Leaving Cert exams could run until early September

New school year likely to be delayed, with staggered return of classes

Discussions are taking place over plans for schools to resume teaching for sixth-year students for two weeks ahead of the start of the Leaving Cert. File photograph: David Sleator

Discussions are taking place over plans for schools to resume teaching for sixth-year students for two weeks ahead of the start of the Leaving Cert. File photograph: David Sleator

 

The Leaving Cert may end up finishing in early September with just a single exam each day under plans to minimise public health risks, according to senior education sources.

In addition, the possibility of the new school year beginning later than normal - with the staggered return of classes over the course of a number of weeks - is being explored in talks between Department of Education officials and education partners.

Weekly meetings between the department, teachers’ unions, school managers and other stakeholders are being planned between now and the end of May to discuss these details.

Sources have cautioned than discussions over the timing of the exams and the return of school are at an early stage will be guided by public health advice.

A number of sources say the possibility of starting the Leaving Cert exams on July 29th and running them until about September 2nd is being explored.

Under a revised timetable, the biggest exams with the largest numbers of candidates would take place towards the start of the exams, such as English, maths and Irish.

Papers with the fewest number of candidates would take place towards the end of the exam period.

This would help speed up the delivery of results by facilitating the marking process for large exams to begin in early August, say sources.

The idea behind holding a single major exam each day is to minimise the chances of students interacting or breaching social distancing rules in between exams.

However, this would significantly extend the exam window.

Last year, for example, more than 30 exams were held over 15 days. Sources say draft plans for this year could see exams held over about 26 days or more.

Leaving Cert students who progress to third-level education are likely to begin their courses as late as November this year.

Best-case scenarios

Several third-level institutions have confirmed that they plan to admit first-year students in either late October or November under best-case scenarios.

The exact dates will depend on the timing of the exams, the duration of the marking process, and how quickly results and offers can be provided to students, according to well-placed sources.

“We’re looking at November at the very best,” said one higher education source, who declined to be named. “This is assuming everything goes smoothly and that timeframes for everything can be compressed.”

In addition, colleges are planning to make up lost time during the academic year by cutting short Christmas holidays and reading weeks for first-year students. This should allow them to complete their summer exams as normal.

Much of the timings will hinge on the timeframe for the exams and the marking process.

Discussions, meanwhile, are also taking place over details of plans for schools to resume teaching for sixth year students for two weeks ahead of the start of the Leaving Cert.

Minister for Education Joe McHugh has requested that schools reopen for a minimum of two weeks in July prior to the exams.

This would require all teaching staff in secondary schools to be available on the premises.

Classes are likely to be divided up into smaller groups for social distancing purposes , according to sources.

Further details are also being discussed over plans for school-based tests to replace the Junior Cycle exams.

It is likely that exam papers would be delivered to schools and teachers would be required to administer and mark the exams.

The results would be incorporate students’ results on students’ Junior Cycle profile of achievement.

The likelihood of school year for secondary students beginning later in September is also being explored.

Some sources say this could involve a staggered return of classes over the course of a number of weeks.

“There is every chance that schools might not have the full complement of students in class until October,” said one source. “However, this all depends on public health advice.”