Q&A: What kind of choice will students have in this year’s Leaving Cert?

Students will given the option of calculated grades and sitting written exams

Minister Norma Foley was due to brief Ministers  at a  Cabinet committee meeting on education. Photograph: Maxwells

Minister Norma Foley was due to brief Ministers at a Cabinet committee meeting on education. Photograph: Maxwells


What will the format of the Leaving Certificate be this year?

All Leaving Cert students will be given the option of availing of calculated grades and/or sitting written exams for each subject.

Students will be credited with whichever grade is highest when the results are released in August.

In short, students can (1) choose calculated grades only; (2) sit all their exams; or (3) avail of both.

Oral exams and musical practials are due to take place during the Easter break, or shortly afterwards. They will be recorded and marked by external examiners

Coursework will proceed in subjects where this forms a normal part of the exam, with additional time provided to complete it.

In some subjects the holding of practical exams will not be possible given public health considerations. Details of revised plans and schedules will be issued to schools in the coming weeks.

Students who choose to avail of calculated grades only will not be required to complete any oral and coursework components.

Will I need to opt-in to avail of calculated grades?

Yes. Students will have the opportunity to opt for “accredited grades” - as they are being called this year - on a subject-by-subject basis . This can be in addition to, or instead of, sitting the Leaving Cert exams.

So, will I get to choose what exam I want to sit?

Yes, students will have the option of choosing whatever subjects they want to sit an exam for.

Will students bother sitting written exams if they can simply opt for calculated grades?

The Government and unions are keen to encourage as many students as possible to sit the written exams and remain engaged with classes until the end of the school year.

They believe the fact that students will not have sight of their calculated grade results in advance of the June exams will provide an incentive for most students to sit the written papers as an “insurance policy”.

Will written exams be delayed until late into summer?

The exams are due to take place as usual in June, subject to public health advice. The State Examinations Commission (examinations.ie) will issued a detailed timetable for the exams on Thursday.

The exams this year will include additional choice to make up for disruption to the school year. The aim is to ensure students who did not get a chance to complete the full curriculum are not unduly penalised.

In what way will the new version of calculated grades be different to last year?

Last year’s calculated grades were based on a combination of teachers’ assessments or predicted grades, along with a standardisation process overseen by the Department of Education to ensure consistency and fairness in grades.

This year, the process as will be overseen by the State Examinations Commission.

No official details have provided yet, but it looks likely that a similar structure will be used to calculate students’ grades.

Will the standardisation process for calculated grades change this year?

Standardisation is the adjustment of grades up or down for consistency and fairness.

Last year, the standardisation process relied on the grade profile of a student’s Junior Cert class, the student’s school track record in Leaving Cert results over a three-year period and the national patterns of achievement in the exams.

Controversially, the use of “school profiling”, was subsequently withdrawn amid fears that it could penalise students in disadvantaged schools.

This decision is the subject of a high profile legal challenge.

These issues are still being examined and will be crucial in determining the pattern of results - but we don't  have clarity on this year.

When will students be back in the classroom?

Leaving Cert students are likely to return to the classroom from March 1st, but this is still under discussion.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) has said it will facilitate the return of Leaving Cert students from February 22nd onwards but the Association of Secondary Teachers’ Ireland (ASTI) has rejected this. Assuming the union changes its stance, it will most likely be early March when Leaving Certs are back.

Will it be safe to sit the exams next June given the threat posed by the UK variant?

Public health authorities are understood to have advised that it is safe to conduct Leaving Cert exams in schools with modifications, similar to the delayed November Leaving Cert exams.

This saw socially distanced students sit exams in classrooms and exam halls, typically overseen by an external supervisor.

Norma Foley has said schools will be provided with guidance on safe running of the examinations, which will be informed by public health advice in due course

What’s due to happen with the Junior Certificate?

The Junior Cert exams for 60,000 students will not be run in 2021.

Instead, schools will be provided with guidance on continuing to engage this year group in online learning and assessment during the period of school closure and through in-person learning when schools re-open.

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