Leaving Cert: Schools to use thousands of classrooms and halls to run exams

Socially distanced written exams mean thousands of supervisors must be recruited

Schools will end up using thousands of classrooms and exam halls during next month’s Leaving Cert exams in order to ensure students taking them are physically distanced.

While the exams traditionally take place in large gymnasiums or halls, Covid-19 public health advice means more than 5,000 “exam centres” in classrooms and school halls will be used for the exams this year.

It is understood that a detailed guidance document will be published by the State Examinations Commission shortly which will place a maximum number of 10 Leaving Cert students per classroom for the exams, with 2m between desks.

Large gyms will be able to accommodate up to 72 candidates divided into three groups, with one exam superintendent for each group. The groups must be separated from each other by 4m.

The move to use additional rooms means that thousands of superintendents will need to be hired to supervise the Leaving Cert exams. Schools will also be asked to create pods of students, where possible, so the same group can remain in the same room for the duration of exams and avoid interaction with others.

It is understood that schools are being asked to undertake their own risk assessments in relation to rooms without windows that can be opened, to assess the suitability of their ventilation.

Any students who are at a very high risk from Covid-19 or who are required to self-isolate during the exams will not have the opportunity of sitting a second set of exams. These candidates will receive accredited grades, whether or not they opted for them earlier.

Majority choice

The vast majority of this year’s 60,000-plus Leaving Cert students are opting to sit written exam papers in June in addition to receiving accredited grades.

It follows a Government decision earlier this year to give students a choice between sitting the exams, accredited grades, or both, in individual subjects. Students who choose both for a subject will be credited with the highest result they receive between the two.

Latest figures show 87 per cent of this year’s candidates have chosen a combination of both written exams and accredited grades.

A total of 6 per cent have opted for accredited grades only, while just 2 per cent have chosen written exams only.

Irish is the least popular written exam with students (58 per cent of those studying it have chosen to sit the exam), followed by French and German (both at 69 per cent). A large majority intend to sit English (81 per cent) and maths (84 per cent), while the most popular exams are in the science and maths area – biology (85 per cent), physics (87 per cent), chemistry (88 per cent) and applied maths (96 per cent).

These overall figures indicate that many students are concentrating their studies on a select number of subjects, rather than sitting all the exams they originally intended to take.

Opposition pressure

The move to give students a choice in this year’s exams follows pressure from students and Opposition parties, who argued it was needed in light of disruption due to the pandemic. Teachers’ unions, however, argued such a move would undermine the traditional summer exams.

It is unclear how many students will actually sit the exams in June. There are concerns within the third-level sector that this year’s system will send grade inflation higher again after the surge due to Covid-19 arrangements last year and will result in CAO points reaching a record high.

Ministers are drawing up plans to add thousands of additional third-level places into high-demand courses this year in a bid to ease some of this pressure.