More Leaving Cert students set to miss exams following Covid-19 cases

Harris says there is a ‘huge need’ to review Leaving Cert after pandemic ends

A number of Leaving Cert students in Covid-19 hot spots will be unable to sit exams after testing positive or being designated as close contacts, according to public health authorities.

While it was confirmed recently that some students in Limerick will miss exams, experts say students elsewhere are also set to miss out on sitting their Leaving Cert papers.

Any student who is required to restrict their movements is not be permitted to sit the exams and will, instead, received “accredited grades” estimated by their teachers.

Tens of thousands of Leaving Cert students are due to start their written exams on Wednesday.

Dr Abigail Collins, consultant in public health medicine and HSE school lead, said the number of students unable to sit exams because of close contact designation was "small nationally". However, "it is very significant for those students," she said. "That's why we're working as hard as possible to protect them."

Separately, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said there was a “huge need” for a discussion on the future of the Leaving Cert after the pandemic.

Asked at a press event in Dublin about the merits of the calculated grades system, he said it was a matter for Minister for Education Norma Foley.

However, he added: “I think post pandemic, there’s a huge need for discussion about the future of the Leaving Cert.

“There’s no doubt in my mind some young people got into college last year, and are doing exceptionally well, and are exceptionally bright, that tell me they don’t feel they would have got there because they weren’t as good as rote learning.”

He said: “Certainly it wasn’t without a difficulty, but what we proved last year was, you can manage to get people into college without having a Leaving Cert, and the world continues to rotate on its axis, so that’s something we’ll return to again.”

Restricting movements

On this year’s exams, Dr Collins said it was important that all members of Leaving Cert students’ families restrict their movements as much as possible, while the wider community also needed to give them space.

“The more we can all restrict our movements around Leaving Cert families, the less likely it is that they will get caught up in something that could affect their chances of sitting the exams.

“If people want to send their best wishes, it’s best to do so virtually and keep away and keep your distance. So, it’s best [not to] go knocking on doors to send best wishes and let families batten down the hatches.”

In Limerick, she said, surge testing was in place as part of a strategy to help improve detection of the virus.

Michael Cregan, principal of Laurel Hill Secondary School FCJ in Limerick, said many families were self-isolating to ensure young people sitting the Leaving Cert were able to stay safe.

“It’s a big concern locally, given that a number of schools in the area have closed, but so far so good,” he said.

“Our students are going to be in bubbles for the exams and will stay in separate centres, or rooms, for the duration of the exams. There’ll be no more than 20 students in the main hall, and 10 students per classroom.”

‘Enormous faith’

Minister for Education Norma Foley said she had “enormous faith” that students would behave responsibly and follow public health guidance both inside and outside exam halls.

“I ’ve seen how they’ve adapted and reconfigured their lives ... I could not have asked for better co-operation or behaviour or acknowledgement of the extraordinary circumstances we found ourselves in,” she said.

Under official State Examinations Commission advice, any Leaving Cert student who refuses or fails to wear a face mask will be refused access to the exams.

Students will be required to be in their assigned seat in the exam centre at least 30 minutes before the start time of exams on day one and at least 15 minutes in advance of their exams on subsequent days.

While candidates who are late may be admitted up to 30 minutes after the exam start time, this time will be forfeited.

The only exception to mandatory face masks will apply to students who have been exempted on medical grounds. These students will be assigned places in special, smaller exam centres.

During the exams, students will be required to maintain two metres’ physical distancing at all times and to avoid mingling with other candidates before and after the exams.

Candidates will be assigned to the same desk in the same room for the duration of their exams.

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

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times