Leaving Cert plans include exams and alternative assessment option

Minister confirms planning under way for ‘two distinct processes’ for assessing students

Planning has officially begun for Leaving Cert exams and a “parallel” alternative assessment option which will not involve exams for students.

Minister for Education Norma Foley confirmed the move following a meeting with representatives of teachers, students, principals and parents on Friday afternoon.

Sources say it is likely that the alternative option will be a modified version of last year’s calculated grades model, which involved teachers assessing their own students and a national standardisation process.

Ms Foley said any corresponding measure would need to provide greater recognition of students taking subjects outside school and candidates’ performance in orals, practicals and coursework.


She has invited education stakeholders – including teachers and student representatives – to participate in “intensive” and “confidential” discussions with Department of Education officials to progress work on these two distinct processes for this year’s Leaving Cert students.

Discussions on the future of Junior Cycle exams will continue in these engagements.

The agreement of teachers’ unions to any alternative assessment option will be crucial, as it will most likely require teachers to assess their students in some form.

Both secondary teachers’ unions – the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) and the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) – have expressed their opposition to re-running the calculated grades process.

In statements released on Friday evening, the unions said they had accepted invitations to enter into the discussions.

The TUI said it would insist the engagement “recognises the professional views and legitimate concerns of our members, including a fundamental concern to protect the standards and reputation of national awards to students”.

The ASTI said it was committed to working with all stakeholders to “ensure Leaving Cert 2021 goes ahead as normally as possible and that alternative plans, should they be necessary, will be put in place”.

The Irish Second Level Students’ Union, which wants students to be given a choice between sitting exams and calculated grades, said it would continue to advocate for clear plans and information to be given to students as quickly as possible.

The department has indicated to the education partners that any corresponding or alternative to the exams would need to include the following features:

– The State Examinations Commission running both the exams and the corresponding process;

– Better provision for out-of-school learners in the corresponding process;

– Some cognisance of performance in “additional component” elements of examinations (coursework, orals, practicals, etc);

– Timely progression to higher and further education using either examinations or the outcome of any corresponding process.

A spokesman for the department said discussions will be “focused and immediate” with the aim of providing plans to students as quickly as possible on how the exams will be held and details of the alternative option.

Ms Foley said that while schools have made huge strides in remote learning, school closures have impacted on preparedness for exams, particularly for disadvantaged students.

“We must provide our students with a clear way to progress to the next stage in life – further and higher education and training or the world of work. Students want certainty. They want fairness. They deserve both.”

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