Leaving Cert postponed until late summer; Junior Cycle replaced with class tests
Students urged to take ‘complete break’ over Easter holidays
The closure of schools, colleges and childcare facilities was ordered from Thursday, March 12th. Photograph: Eric Luke
The Leaving Cert exams scheduled in June are to be postponed and will now run from late July until August, the Government has announced.
The Junior Cycle, meanwhile, is set to be replaced by school-based exams which will run in the new academic year.
The changes mean tens of thousands of students who are due to progress to third level and further education are likely to commence their courses much later than they originally anticipated.
Deadlines for students to complete practicals and project work in a number of subjects such as history, geography and home economics will also be extended until late July. Students had been given a deadline of Friday May 15th to complete this work.
Leaving Cert students will likely be allowed to return to school for at least two weeks in July prior to the exams, subject to public health advice.
While the move will bring much-needed clarity to students over contingency plans the Leaving Cert, it is likely to be a major disappointment for many students who now face an extended summer preparing for the exams.
Last week a survey of almost 30,000 Leaving Cert students by the Irish Second Level Students’ Union found that almost half (49 per cent) wanted to cancel the exams and use already-completed coursework to decide their grades.
The least popular option was rescheduling exams to July or August (19 per cent).
Minister for Education Joe McHugh made the announcement at at press conference on Friday afternoon.
The decision followed doubts that Covid-19 restrictions would be lifted in time for the usual June start date for the exams.
As part of the wider public health measures, schools are closed until further notice.
The new Leaving Certificate exam timetable, meanwhile. will be confirmed in early June.
Minister McHugh said the announcement provided much needed clarity to students.
“Today’s announcement addresses that. It also provides them with several weeks of advance notice to prepare for the examinations. I hope it helps to alleviate some stress being experienced by students and their families at this time.
“Asking Leaving Certificate students and their families to refocus their attention from June to August is not something we do lightly. I know it will not be easy.
“However, I believe it is the fairest way of assessing students and giving them certification of achievement in school and a pathway to higher and further education and training, apprenticeship or work.”
Minister McHugh also said: “Students with special educational needs will be fully supported in sitting the rescheduled Leaving Certificate examinations in line with the reasonable accommodations as already arranged for them.”
As part of the changes to the Junior Cycle, discussions will take place with teacher unions and school management to allow these tests along with linked classroom-based assessments, assessment tasks and project work to be completed as school-based assessments early in the next school year.
The delay to the Leaving Cert, meanwhile, will pose major logistical issues such as organising exams to ensure they comply with public health measures, as well as sourcing enough teachers mark the exams.
Second level teachers’ unions ASTI and TUI said their executive committees would meet remotely on Friday evening to consider how best to proceed.
“We remain committed to serving the best interests of students, as evidenced by the wholehearted engagement of teachers with remote teaching and learning over recent weeks,” the unions said in a joint statement.
“We are conscious of the enormity of the challenges facing our society now, and we are appreciative of the work done by all concerned to meet these challenges.”
In a joint statement on the announcement, secondary school management bodies - the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools, (ACCS) Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI), Joint Managerial Body (JMB) and National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) - said they appreciated the clarity.
“This brings certainty for students at this difficult time as they continue to prepare for their Leaving Certificate and Junior Cycle Exams, ” the organisations said.
“We would like to acknowledge the ongoing work of the students, teachers and management in our school communities in dealing with the unique and challenging circumstances we are presented with at this time in such a positive and productive manner.”
In light of the revised schedule, the organisations said, students should “take a complete break from their studies in this Easter period so that they can return refreshed and renewed to the learning process”.
Groups representing universities and the institutes of technology confirmed that the changes will impact on the academic year for incoming first years.
The Irish Universities Association and the Technological Higher Education Association said they will work with the CAO and the State Examinations Commission to facilitate the changes.