Leaving Cert: Schools confident students will respect Covid measures as exams get under way

Some 55,000 students expected to sit written exams, which begin today

All desks must be at least two metres apart and in well-ventilated areas. Photograph: Laura Hutton

All desks must be at least two metres apart and in well-ventilated areas. Photograph: Laura Hutton

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School principals believe students will abide by safety measures that ban them from presenting for exams if they are required to self-isolate for Covid-19 reasons.

Almost 90 per cent of the 61,500 Leaving Cert candidates have opted to sit written exams, which begin on Wednesday across at about 800 schools and other venues.

Students have a choice this year of sitting a written exam, opting for accredited grades based on teachers’ estimates, or both, on a subject-by-subject basis.

They will be automatically credited with the better of the two results.

Of the 55,000 students sitting written exams, almost 40,000 have indicated that they will sit at least five exams.

However, principals say they have no idea how many students will turn up for the exams on the day, with reports that significant numbers in some schools may opt to stay at home for a variety of reasons.

Public health authorities have confirmed that a number of students will not be able to sit the exams after testing positive for Covid-19 or being designated as a close contact. All these students will be offered accredited grades, where possible.

The State Examinations Commission (SEC) said arrangements for the exams had been drawn up in close consultation with public health authorities to ensure they would be conducted as safely as possible.

Tribute to staff

There are strict limits on the number of students per room, while all desks must be at least two metres apart and in well-ventilated areas.

SEC chairperson Pat Burke paid tribute to school staff for their support in arranging the exams this year.

He said he hoped adjustments to the exams this year – which include greater choice – and the system of accredited grades would support students and allow them to move on with their lives.

“For our part, we in the State Examinations Commission will do our utmost to deliver the examinations and the accredited grades as fairly and smoothly as possible in what continue to be challenging times,” he said.

Ronan Walsh, principal of Sutton Park School in Dublin, said he was satisfied with the support the school had received in organising the exams.

“They’ve done a good job. The directions have been clear and specific. We’ll have two-metre distancing between desks. The face mask rule will be difficult for the exams, but it’s for safety reasons,” he said.

Diane Birnie, principal of Lucan Community College, said she was confident students would respect the rules and stay away from the exams if they are required to self-isolate.

“This is a strong level of trust that has been built up between students, families and schools over years,” she said. “I hope it will follow through. With the accredited grades system, they know there is a grade for them if they are unlucky enough that they can’t turn up.”

Irish unpopular

Pat McKenna, principal of Pobalscoil Neasáin in Baldoyle, Dublin, said he felt confident that the measures in place would protect staff and pupils.

“We feel that we’re used to providing a safe environment, and with the increased distance and supports in place, I think students can be confident that everything is in place to ensure they are kept safe.”

Latest figures show that the majority of exam candidates are opting for both exams and accredited grades.

Irish is the least popular subject for those taking written exams, with 48 per cent of candidates planning to sit it, while applied maths is the most popular, with 92 per cent planning to sit it.

In response to requests in recent weeks from candidates wanting to belatedly opt in to the accredited grades system, authorities have decided that a further opportunity will be provided to eligible candidates later in the summer.

Examwatch 2021: The Irish Times is providing live reaction to the Leaving Cert exam papers, along with daily dispatches from our exam diarists, celebrity Q&As and last-minute tips online. irishtimes.com/education