Q&A: Will Leaving Cert go ahead following decision to keep schools closed until September?

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has confirmed that schools will remain closed until autumn

A spokesman for the Department of Education said the Government is still planning to proceed with two weeks of school in July for Leaving Cert students, ahead of the start of exams on July 29th.

When are schools set to reopen in light of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s comments on Friday evening?

The Taoiseach has confirmed that schools and colleges will not reopen until September/October for  the start of the new academic year.

He did not offer additional details, but education sources say this likely means a later start to the academic year in most cases.

For example, it is expected that primary and secondary schools may return on a staggered basis during September, with some classes attending on certain days and others on alternate days.


Remote learning looks set to continue to be a reality on days when classes don’t physically go to school.

At third level, most colleges are planning to return from September 28th onwards for returning students, and November 2nd for students who have completed the Leaving Cert.

Will the Leaving Cert be affected by the decision to keep schools closed until September?

The Taoiseach’s comments have prompted plenty of speculation about the status of the Leaving Cert.

The absence of a reference to the exams in the Governmentt's roadmap for easing restrictions has been interpreted in some quarters as a sign of  fresh uncertainty over whether they will go ahead.

However, a spokesman for the Department of Education said the Government is still planning to proceed with two weeks of school in July for Leaving Cert students, ahead of the scheduled start of the exams on July 29th.

“Planning for the Leaving Cert is still being discussed, including through the advisory group set up by the Department involving education stakeholders. It is still hoped to bring just Leaving Cert students back in July, subject to adequate planning and public health advice,” the spokesman said.

How certain can we be that the exams themselves will actually go ahead? 

Some Opposition politicians claimed on Friday that the absence of a reference to the exams in the Government's roadmap is telling.

Fianna Fail's education spokesman Thomas Byrne TD, for example, says he is now "fully convinced" that the exams should not go ahead in the face of uncertainty and what he describes as the lack of preparations in place to have a fair Leaving Cert.

However, the official line from the Department of Education remains that the exams are scheduled to proceed, subject to public health advice.

Meetings with education stakeholders took place on Friday to discuss the kind of measures that may be required to ensure the safety of students and staff if the exams go ahead.

If the public health situation deteriorates, will the exams will be cancelled?

That remains a credible scenario.

Minister for Education Joe McHugh has said various contingency plans are being examined if the exams do not go ahead.

He has declined to comment further, but we can only speculate that these options include further delays, predicted or expected grades for students; or matriculation/entry exams for third level courses.

Why are predicted or expected grades not being considered?

Mr McHugh has said there is an “inherent bias” in offering students’ predicted grades and that they would likely become a major issue of controversy among students who narrowly miss out on a college place.

In addition - though he did not say this -  some teachers’ unions are vehemently opposed to grading their own students for the purposes of a State exam.

If the Leaving Cert does not go ahead, however, it would seem highly likely, that some form of expected grades might have to be considered, with or without the role of teachers.

Some educators have put forward arguments for how this could happen.

What is happening in other countries with end-of-school exams?

The practice varies. Last week, Hong Kong commenced its equivalent of the Leaving Cert, with a requirement that students sit at desks separated by 1.8 metres and that all students wear face masks and undergo temperature checks.

China is also planning to press ahead with its equivalent exams in July, subject to similar safeguards.

Closer to home, many EU member states or jurisdictions are also planning to go ahead with end-of-school exams, though in many cases they have opted to reduce the number or duration of exams.

For example, exams are due to go ahead in various forms in Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, some parts of Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain.

However, they have been cancelled in the UK, France and the Netherlands. In these cases, they are opting for a combination of predicted or expected grades, based on students' past coursework.

Other countries are still considering their options.

What is the best advice for students facing into exams?

The best option is to presume the exams will go ahead, to try and block out some of the speculation and work towards the exams beginning on July 29th.

Try to pace yourself in your study and don’t burn yourself out. There is still a long way to go.

One good piece of advice is to create a rough timetable, working backwards from July 29th, factoring in plenty of study breaks and time off.

Minister for Health Simon Harris indicated recently that primary schools might reopen in June for a day a week. Will this happen?

No. The Taoiseach’s statement makes it clear that schools will not reopen until the autumn. Leaks during the week also indicated that this was the course of action being considered by public health officials and politicians.